Thursday, August 02, 2007

Abortion, Aric, and Me

Aric and I have "crossed swords" a time or two. Most of the time, when we can get past our irascible instincts, it turns out to be iron sharpening iron. He's a smart guy and - more importantly - a brother in Christ. Despite being a bit pomo and more liberal than me, he's ardently Trinitarian and believes that Jesus made a difference. We share a commitment to examining our Confessional material, we're both fathers, and we both have what can only be described as "presbytery issues." That gives plenty of common ground for us to work from. Below is his response to my last entry.


I am with you. Abortion is always a tragedy and when it is elective it is also a sin. I would have more respect for "Pro-Lifers" if they were consistently pro-life. ie: opposed death-penalty, war, supported adoption, child-care, welfare etc... However, I don't have a basic disagreement with them on this one issue. Abortion is wrong.

Now, (you knew some kind of disagreement was coming) I think that the way we frame the Abortion discussion is unhelpful. It tends to focus exclusively on the choice of the mother whether or not to keep her child. By that point we have already failed as a society. That one choice is not really an isolated incident that it is fair to put the entire moral weight of the situation upon. The morality of Abortion begins back in the mother's childhood with adequate support and instruction for the proper use of contraception, encouragement of abstinence, insistence upon responsibility etc... It is immoral that men bear so little of the responsibility or public shame of unwanted pregnancies. It is immoral that we as a society don't provide better, healthier, safer options than abortion for women with unwanted pregnancies. It is immoral that so many children in this country don't have health care etc.. etc...

Essentially I don't think it is an issue that can be addressed on its own, but has to be addressed as part of a network of issues. This does not mean I'm okay with the status quo of 3,700 abortions a day. I just don't think the best route to fixing that is legislation around abortion itself. I'd rather see fewer unwanted pregnancies, or better support for mothers.

As to the question that was actually asked, about the value of a fetus' life - I think it is worthwhile to approach it from a historical perspective. Every society I know of, including our own, has placed less value on the life of the fetus than on the life of born humans. As tragic as it is, abortion and infanticide have been a universal feature of human society. I personally think this is an instance of progress, that we are now arguing so fiercely over the life of a child which previously would have been regarded as unimportant. I believe that we are correct to begin placing more and more value on the life of the fetus.

The question I have philosophically, and I realize it is difficult to talk about moral issues that affect us personally in a philosophical manner, is whether we have the right approach to determining value. Most people take a medical or forensic approach to determining the value of the fetus' life - is it fully developed? Would it survive without the mother? etc... In my mind this is an unsatisfactory approach because it leads to a whole system of gradiated (sic.; graduated?) value. Am I more valuable than a mentally disabled person because I am less dependent? Clearly God does not value us in this way depending on our capacities.

Other people take the approach of debating when the "soul" enters the person. This approach is even less satisfactory because it relies on unprovable metaphysics, and quite frankly I don't buy the dualistic anthropology. Humans aren't "souls encased in flesh" we're corporeal beings through and through. But that is a digression.

In my opinion the most theologically appropriate (and scripturally accurate) approach to determining the value of a life is by its relationships to other lives. Alexander Schmemann and other theologians go so far as to say that a single Human Being isn't really a human being. We become who we are by being in relationship. The complete realization of who we are is consummated in perfect communion with God. With this approach I can say a couple things about a fetus. Most women I know feel like they have a relationship with the fetus inside them when they are pregnant. My wife certainly did. She had a sense of his personality, and she would have been devastated to lose him. There is no question in my mind that a relationship existed there. There is also no question in my mind that the relationship developed and became more complex later in pregnancy, whereas early on it is difficult (maybe impossible) to really relate to something smaller than your fingernail which you can't feel or sense in anyway. Late in pregnancy I was even able to have a relationship with our children. However, that only became really possible for me once the baby was moving sufficiently for me to feel and respond to. Essentially, it seems that relationship is possible, but only in a limited way. Had some kind of tragedy struck during my wife's pregnancies and a horrible choice was forced, I wouldn't have hesitated to choose to save my wife rather than the baby. I can't lift my feelings up into any kind of moral law, but I have a sense that most people feel this way.

Anyway, that was a long ramble and it probably didn't answer anything, but hey!


Benjamin P. Glaser said...

One thing I do not understand is this idea the for one to be consistent in your "pro-life" stance that you therefore then have to be against the Death-Penalty and War. To me this argument makes no sense.

Drew said...

It is based on the idea that both criminals and our enemies possess life, and that life in all of its forms is valuable.

I liked the post.

Presbyman said...

Personally, I think it's more inconsistent to oppose Capital Punishment and war while supporting abortion rights.

Bayou Christian said...

The consistency in the "Pro Life" possition is usually considered the protection of the "innocent" -which will not solve most people's objections to war may help with the death sentence issue.

Aric - your argumentation on "value" is what ultimately switched me from "pro-choice" in college to "pro-life" and this occured at a point in my life where I was not self defining as "Christian". Since I considered a fetus a life, and since I feel none of us are qualified to place value on such a life, then we must protect that life.

I think it leads us to the heigth of (I need a better word here) our falleness to try to assign value to life - you use the relational value - all kinds of people are limited in their relational capacity whether by illness, mental state, birth defect, emotional state. A very slippery slope.

You reject the one that I consider the most reasonable point of debate - when life begins. Your reason is pretty sound but none the less I think it values life more than any of the other debating points.

Lastly the largest problem with the current pro choice possition is the very same vagueness of terms.

For instance right now "health" of the mother includes "stressed".

I also agree that the whole debate is incredibly polarized and the particular situation you mention - of either mother or child - should likely be seperated out it's own medical category - this is already ethicly covered in the range of situations like "triage".

War and Death penalty are largely different situations. Since adults clearly know the laws of the land, since humanity has practice the concept of "Eye for an Eye" for millenia - it is a free choice to risk death by horrendous crime.

War is much more complex. I generally do not spend time trying to qualify whether war is just or not. We all know that "innocents" die in war no matter how good the reasons seem. However, the leaders of nations also understand that their behaviors have consequences so at that level it is a choice as well.

Aric Clark said...

Hello all,

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

@ Presbyman

I see your point. I don't disagree that it is an inconsistency. Frankly I don't have any satisfactory answers on what seems to me to be an intractable issue.

@ Bayou Christian

I have 3 objections to your point about protection of the "innocent".

The first is theological. We are all totally depraved and though our culture has bought wholesale the romantic view of infants as pure and perfect, I say Calvin and Augustine are right - we're corrupt from the womb.

The second is likewise theological - Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ and Christ died for us, Christ was raised for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. Surely we must strive to be as merciful as Christ.

The third is legal - innocent people die on death row. Maybe not many, maybe only a very few, but shouldn't our bias to protect the innocent rule out a behavior which endangers some however few in number?

As for the discussion on value - you make a good point that the relational category is still problematic. Ultimately I don't think there is a clear cut dividing line. It seems to me that just as the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, our species is a continual chain of dependency. Any choice we make is rife with ethical dilemmas. This doesn't mean all choices are equal, but it means that we never get to claim righteousness for our actions. We do the best we can and we always fall short.

Drew said...

From where I stand, I don't see a distinction in the term "pro-life" regarding innocence or "collateral damages." Preventing the end of life by taking lives (as in war and capital punishment) may be pragmatic (although I don't believe it is) but it can hardly be called "pro-life." EVEN IF such action saves lives.

"Anti-abortion" is a much better term, especially for those "pro-life" people who are zealous enough for life that they kill.

Toby Brown said...

A very good exchange of ideas here!

Bravo Chris, for getting the ball rolling.

For the record, I too agree that one can be thoroughly consistent in affirming the pro-life position on abortion and still support the just use of the death penalty and the 'just war' doctrine. This stance is just classical Christianity at its most rational and best, to my mind.

will spotts said...

Aric -
I am one of those (I suspect somewhat rare) types who oppose both abortion and capital punishment. I do not regard them as equivalent issues, though - as the concept of guilt/innocence does play a factor.

I'm fairly certain I don't accept the equivalence of types of corruption. I agree - a baby is born corrupt, as are all humans. It is in our nature to choose corruption - while we certainly can occasionally do otherwise, we cannot consistently do so. This does not mean he or she has actually DONE anything discernibly corrupt or evil - and something of preemptive punishment doesn't sit well at all with me.

Aside from which - no one I have ever heard argue the point - either for or against capital punishment, has in mind the types of torture applied to the fetus in late term abortions. In fact, many people are profoundly opposed to far more mild forms of mistreatment. Development has (I agree) no place in questions of value, but it does have a place in the ability of the fetus to feel pain - making the action far more grotesque in the case of a more developed child.

To me, the strongest argument is the third (e.g. innocent people are often killed legally by the state / society). The second argument I also find has some weight. I would add to it that we are not competent to see the ends of situations. What can become of someone who has actually committed terrible crimes? The Bible has several stories of such people - and some are regarded quite positively (for example Paul and David).

I think you may have addressed this, but I'm very uncomfortable with the notion that relationship commutes value. If one means relationship with God - then all creatures have such a relationship. If one means reconciled relationship with God, then not all have this - but this could hardly be construed to indicate that someone did not have a right to live. If one means relationships with others - why? Were I suddenly to be dropped on a deserted island, not able to relate to any other human being from here on out - I would still have a right to live, I would still desire to live (or, at least, a part of me would - even if overwhelmingly depressed by the situation), I would still act to preserve my life (both to preserve myself from pain, and because the body acts to preserve life anyway). Would I suddenly have less value? I don't see it. How about someone autistic (severely) who was incapable of forming legitimate affective bonds. Would that person have less value? How about someone just hated - for whatever reason - say race, gender, religion, etc. - and left alone? Would that person have less value?

When Jesus was crucified, he seems to have been abandoned by all such relationships (more or less). Yes, his mother was there, as was the other Mary, and John - but he endured the cross (and even Gethsemane) alone. At one point he even makes the rather problematic (from a theological standpoint) statement about being forsaken by the Father. Many have, in the history of the church, faced martyrdom alone. Many were abandoned by family and friends - their relationships ruined - in some cases family and friend participated in their killings. Did these become less valuable?

I just don't get this as a category of value, of humanity, or of Christianity - though I have heard it asserted of all three.

Presbyman said...

Drew wrote:

"Anti-abortion" is a much better term, especially for those "pro-life" people who are zealous enough for life that they kill.

I just was waiting for someone to drag out that tired old chestnut.

will spotts said...

drew -
If you can get those who support abortion to call themselves pro-abortion, then I'll be happy to use anti-abortion for those opposed to the practice.

Drew said...

"pro-abortion" really isn't a good term because very few people really are, in fact, pro-abortion. I for one liked Hilary's line (and I don't like her on most things) of making abortion "safe, legal, and rare." Actually, I would prefer for "Safe and rare." Legality, sadly, is the best way to get there.

The terms we have are lousy because I believe that the majority of Americans are in fact "pro-life" AND "pro-choice," although none of us are consistently so. I for example, always want life--for the unborn and for everybody else, but I understand that in this fallen world, sometimes choices have to be made that lead to death. Abortion and war are very similar to me in this regard. Neither should ever happen, but sometimes one or the other is the best way forward in a horrible situation. Even those that think we should never have a war (like me) agree that we should have rules regarding war (such as the Geneva Conventions) so that it can be prevented and controlled. I would like the same thing for abortion.

While this makes sense to me, each party in this country is so beholden to extreme positions, that I don't think it will ever happen. Too bad.

will spotts said...

drew - true enough. None of the terms are really quite accurate. Neither side uses them consistently - people who identify as pro-choice are usually for taking choices away from others on all sorts of issues. Just not that one. As you and others have pointed out, people who identify as pro-life often are also inconsistent.

Perhaps more accurate would be something like pro- and con- abortion rights. I don't know that this conveys it either, though.

Legal does not make rare - look at prohibition - surely one cannot say that alcohol use went down after its repeal?? In fact, it went up. However, prohibition demonstrated the ineffectiveness of a law at curbing a behavior large numbers of people were bent on pursuing.

Legal does not make safe. Cigarettes are legal.

I'm also not entirely persuaded that a fair number of those who style themselves pro-choice really dislike abortion. Some do - some actually believe the 'safe, legal, rare' triad. But others stand to profit from the practice, or view it as a curb on population increases, or philsophically believe that some people shouldn't be reproducing, or believe that having children is intrinsically oppressive to women, or believe that children are a hindrance to the career/life path of the person who has them. Varieties of these opinions are so widespread that I suspect they account for far more 'pro-choice' persons than one might want to admit.

For me, the cost of being wrong is a large factor. I will not say I *know* this, but if, as I fear, the victims of abortion have been human beings having a full right to life - then our world's practice has been monstrous - dwarfing ALL WARS, and ALL EXECUTIONS of all time, combined. (There have been in the last thirty years over a billion abortions.) If I'm wrong, then I have contributed to the loss of freedom of others to make a particular choice that has had a grave impact on their lives - and that would be an evil. If what I fear IS in fact true, then no defense of the practice is possible. Which alternative would be worse?

On the legality issue - I don't believe it is possible to change at this point, and I dont' believe it will have the desired effect, but I'll take what I can get. If criminalizing the practice will curb it - will, in fact, make it rare - then I'd be inclined to accept this as a (granted, far from optimal) solution.

Drew said...

yes, I like "pro-abortion rights" and "anti-abortion rights," but it implies that abortion is a right, which I do not believe it is.

I think that regulation of drinking, without criminalization of it, would lead to less drinking. I know that in PA I drank less than when I lived in OH and NY because it was more of a hassle to buy beer in PA.

Regulation certainly hasn't made cigarettes safe, but it has made them safer. For all that is in them now, it used to be worse. Very few people find PCP in their smokes, but it does find its way into their joints from time to time. Furthermore, taxes on tobacco offset some of the negative societal implications.

I believe that life begins at conception, but I think that an embryo, while alive, is at a different place along the spectrum of life than a child is. I know this sounds harsh, but we all do this. People eat cows, but not puppies. People will let strangers go hungry, but not family members. People that would never pull a trigger can suggest that we nuke a city. I'm not saying that I'm a relativist when it comes to life, I'm saying WE ALL are.

But God isn't, of course, and if God chooses sides, God tends to be on the "little guy's" side (at least most of the time). I believe that this includes the unborn.

But I guess I just don't believe that making abortion illegal would make it better. I know that some women will do desperate and stupid things.

I guess my plan for reducing abortions would be:

a. a renewed zeal for comprehensive sex ed.

b. a push for economic justice, especially for the mothers most likely to have abortions.

c. no free abortions. If anything should be free, it's contraceptive. If a person "needs" to have an abortion, she (and hopefully the father) can find some money. I think a sliding scale would be best (because a lot of rich women get abortions, too) say, 10% of your annual income. Any funds raised beyond the costs incurred would have to go to sex-ed programs.

d. A mess of paperwork, just to make it hard to get an abortion. This is one of the few times that I am pro-red tape. Adoption, on the other hand, should be made as easy as possible.

e. Pre-abortion education which covers the ways to prevent needing another abortion, options instead of abortion, and the risks involved.

f. A one hour waiting period, in the office, after the forms, education, and down payment have been made. Just to think about it. During that time, a woman can leave and not be obligated to pay or do anything.

Would this eliminate abortion? nope. But it would DRASTICALLY cut it, and still allow for women who would have "back ally" abortions to have one with significantly less risk. The downside is that the government would have to get much more involved (I don't like this, but I can deal with it.)

I think if any candidate for president proposed such a plan, they would get BLASTED by planned parent hood and the Right to Life groups, but they would get a lot of support from folks in the middle (provided those folks were able to hear through the smear campaign.)

will spotts said...

drew - I appreciate your willingness to discuss a very vexing topic.

I agree with the limitation in the phrase 'abortion rights', but it still may be preferable to the alternatives. What I'm looking for is a more neutral and accurate/consistent approach.

Your observation about the spectrum of life is accurate for how we think. I don't believe it should be. (It reminds me rather of what Jesus said about saluting your friends - 'even the pagans do that'. Something about loving your neighbor as yourself makes this sliding scale difficult to label Christian.)

In general terms I oppose compulsion - say, for example about drinking, drug use, smoking, healthcare, sexual behaviors, etc. Where someone's actions inescapably and materially harm another (in this case taking a life), however, I regard that as a proper role for government.

I like your suggestions. I think all of them would be good. In this case, I would support whichever were likely to actually reduce the practice. I'm less concerned with what is legal or otherwise as what the effects will be. So yes - if this would drasitcally reduce abortion, then I'm all for it.

I particularly like items c, d, and e. (On item b I'm more concerned with creating an evnironment in which having a child would not be a catastrophic economic hardship. For some people it currently is.)

Bayou Christian said...

Here I go all black and white on us. this argumentation will likely not affect Aric - Drew I hope you listen to it carefully before you tune me out. Your current possition is almost exactly the same as mine 15 years ago.

If it is wrong (abortion) it should be opposed.

Just because someone somewhere dies in a war (justified or not)does not make it acceptable. It is still the ending of a life.

Just because someone like me is inconistant on other issues does not change the fact that it is wrong. ( I am very vexed for instance about capital punisment because I want every opportunity for that person to hear the gospel).

Just because someone somewhere might have to choose the lesser of two evils does not force us to make it legal across the board.

If abortion is evil then it should be illegal period.

Just because I am wrong 365 times and then I say the sky is blue - you would not then discount my opinion on the sky. This is a smokescreen. The facts are quite simple.

To Support Abortion you must:

Decide when life begins (dreams begin before 20 weeks for instance, will pointed out pain, heart beat what will you choose?)


Decide that life has gradings of value.

and the real kicker here:
Refuse to calculate the cost if you are wrong about this issue.

A couple of more comments:

how many people have actually tried to kill abortionists? What 2? Please give that a rest.

Aric - I put "innocent" in parenthesis for a reason I doubt anyone missed my point. Your points one and two contradict each other. Christ's mercy clearly estends to the unborn see Psalm 139.

Your third is clearly addressed above. I cannot understand a logic that would attempt to say that because some are killed unjustly it is acceptable therefore to kill millions of fetus'.

Drew said...

I agree that it is wrong to kill. I also agree that abortion is the taking of life. I won't do it, I won't pay for it, and I won't counsel it.

That being said, I do believe that I can still allow others to make that choice, yes, the choice to kill. I already pay others to kill every paycheck when they take out my income taxes. I have considered giving away enough money so that said event would not happen, but I am yet to do so.

I do not agree that if something is evil, than it must be illegal. I believe idolatry is the greatest of evils, but I don't believe it should be criminalized. Of the 10 commandments, I don't think anyone would consider enforcing the first four in this country, not by the government, at least.

Of course, you said that I should be against something that is wrong. I am against abortion, but I am not against it being legal. I think many kinds of speech are wrong, and I am against them, but I do not think they should be illegal. Ditto war. Ditto consumerism.

Anyway, I'll say it again, just to be clear. I do not "support abortion," it is my belief that very few people do. I believe that life begins at conception, and that there is a (not good, but real) 'scale of valuation' to life. We both agree that abortion is wrong, we only disagree on the tactics to use against it.

Will, I agree with you that the "spectrum" is not how it should be, but I really don't see how we can get around such choices before the Kingdom comes in all of its fullness. That being said, we ought to make our choices based on Kingdom Values in the meantime, and those values ARE radically different than the rest of the country's.

Bayou Christian said...


I will push no harder.

Thanks for the conversation and maintaining a civil tone - it is appreciated.

Aric Clark said...

Bayou Christian,

Thanks for responding. My points 1 and 2 are not in contradiction any more than it is a contradiction to say along with Luther that we are 'simul iustus et peccator'. Total Depravity and Christ's sole authority to judge, which he does in a merciful way - these are the foundations of the gospel.

I was not arguing that a child is depraved and should be aborted whereas a murderer should be spared. My point was that there is no ground for either to stand on but grace. It is not theologically correct to protect a child because it is "innocent" and then murder a criminal because they are guilty - which is what many people argue. Both the child and the murderer deserve our mercy because they are children of God.

Lastly, I was absolutely NOT arguing that the unjust death of some on Death Row makes abortion acceptable. My point is that the same logic which make abortion unacceptable makes capital punishment unacceptable unless you make the theological gaffe of imputing innocence to the child.

Bayou Christian said...


I have already addressed the use of the term "innocent". But apparently did not make myself clear. We are not arguing this matter in some theological ivory tower but in a real world of both believers and unbelievers. Therefor I am not using it in it's historical theolgocial context but in the common language usage that everyone who enters this debate whether Christian or otherwise uses it. Let me spell that out for you:

An "innocent" is:
One who has not caused their death by some action of their own.

Secondarily: I understand it is not your intentionality to argue that murderers and babies in the womb are equivalent but the logic of your argumentation in this particular context leaves no other logical conclusion.

I find that although I now understand the nuance you are trying to make - that it has no clear place in the practical outworking of the real life - death of millions of babies within the womb.

Now a murderer takes an action that leads to their potential death. We believe (we being both theologians and members of a free secular society) that is a free choice.

An infant in the womb takes no such action, makes no such choice therefore there murder should be considered grievous. For another human being to choose their death should not be a protected "right".

A person killed in a war zone is once again far too complex to enter into this particular situation.

Again the failure to attempt to avoid the death of some has no bearing on a seperate particular issue like abortion.

We all start as you pointed out with the broad ethical issue of valueing life. I place the broad qualification of "valueing life holistically". You set your "value of life relationally".

In the case of murderers I would say that they choose to set aside their right to life by suspending the right to life of another. I believe (and I've stated I have qualms on this one myself) that taking the life of murders values life in that it defends the life of still others and places the highest value on taking a life (losing your own).

In the case of infants in the womb I see no freedom of choice for them. I also see in the greater paradigm that abortion devalues life therefore it should be opposed.

Again - I am not an apologist for war - but those who are would say that War should be reserved for occasions where the value of life will be increased by opposing a systemic evil that devalues life.

An example would be the need to stop Nazism which clearly devalued the life of Jews. For similar reasons we opposed the work of Joseph Stalin who killed off even more people than Hitler. War quickly becomes more complicated and that is why I fall into the traditional approach that that is a matter for the State not the Church -but that is a whole other matter.

My point in this object lesson is to show who the overarching paradigm of Valueing Life is not the same as the particular ethical choices of abortion, death penalty, and war but it still impacts each one.

Aric Clark said...

Bayou Christian,

I appreciate your response. You are right that ethics, where the rubber really hits the road, often has to deal with issues that are more complicated than the overarching theological theme allows for. In my own way I can be black and white at times - God is good, therefore God does not condone violence. ever. I realize this is just the flip side of your own black and white arguments earlier.

Capital Punishment and War are related topics to Abortion, but we have really ventured away from the topic of the original post. I would enjoy talking to you about these subjects in more detail at another time, because it brings in my antecedent gospel commitment to pacifism, which colors my argumentation. On abortion let me basically sum up what I think we agree on: Abortion is wrong, always and everywhere. Some circumstances in very very rare situations might mitigate this and make it the lesser wrong of several wrongs, but elective abortion especially is a tragedy.

I suspect where we begin to disagree is what to do about this. That, is an intractable problem that we will not solve on this blog.