Abortion, Ethics and the Church

(This post was first published on this site a little more than a year ago. I am reposting today in recognition of Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary earlier this month, and in recognition that many are weighing the ethics of abortion as they make voting choices on November 8th.)

I once listened and prayed as a woman whose father was pressuring her to have an abortion weighed her options. She was young, unmarried and dating a man of another race. I encouraged her to choose life. She went on, despite her father’s protests, to give birth to a child with severe deformities. That child died within months of birth. Was my opinion justified?

In other conversations, I have listened as women who have had abortions suffer, years later, with guilt and shame. I’ve listened as couples talk about how spiritual and emotional wounds inflicted by a past abortion affect every aspect of marriage. I’ve never been asked to counsel the women who had no post-traumatic stress from the effects of an abortion but I’ve counseled plenty who did.

Getting beyond the emotions beneath the issue of abortion is a challenge. But beyond the stories and beyond biblical arguments, what are the issues beneath the abortion debate?

Morality and the sanctity of human life: The fundamental issue has to do with the nature of life itself. Pro-life supporters believe life begins at conception, in which case abortion is murder. Pro-choice supporters see abortion as basically the same as any other form of birth control, with an emphasis on the right of women to make their own choices. While the core issue is often framed in the form of the question, “When does life begin?” those who support the right of a woman to choose don’t count that unborn life as having a vote while it is still part of a woman’s body.

Separation of Church and State:  Is abortion a religious issue or a legal issue?  The answer to this question determines whether or not the State can be involved in its legalization and funding.  The question has resurfaced in recent years as companies like Hobby Lobby and The Little Sisters of the Poor protest the federal mandate requiring that they provide birth control, abortion and sterilization services as part of their insurance packages.

Dangers of illegal abortions: Before abortion was made legal, there were countless stories of women who suffered and died from illegal abortions. That’s no longer the case, at least in the United States. Ironically, in countries like India where abortion is not only available but encouraged as a gender selection tool (this is the case in many countries that favor boys over girls), countless women are physically damaged by legal abortion procedures.

Effectiveness of restrictions: Because abortions have always happened whether they were legal or not, many acknowledge that even if it were made illegal, people will still do what people will do. That argument, however, largely rides on a culture of shame. For instance, being single and pregnant in America in 1950 is wildly different from being single and pregnant in 2016.

Tactics: This part of the debate has to do with how the two sides — especially the radical activists on each end of the spectrum — seek to make their points. When clinics are bombed and doctors are killed or when the rhetoric becomes hateful, threatening or bullying, no one is helped.

Women’s Rights: For pro-choice activists, this is about women having the right to do with their bodies as they see fit. For pro-lifers, the issue is about making the kinds of choices that are just and that help to build a stronger, more loving society.

What does the Church say about abortion?
Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists may well be the most outspoken opponents of abortion. Both groups believe and teach that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception and that a human being has all the rights of a person even before birth, whatever the circumstances of conception.

The United Methodist statement on abortion reads:  “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers … a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.”

I strongly disagree with the United Methodist statement on abortion. Abortion is not an ethical choice and I cannot conceive of a “tragic conflict of life with life” that would justify it. All life is sacred, and a person who engages in life-creating behavior enters into a sacred process. We are not given license to pick and choose which children come into the world. That was never our charge.

The alternative, then, is to receive life as a gift in whatever way it happens. It means throwing baby showers for single women far more often than I’d like, and toeing the line on what holiness means in unmarried relationships.  It means honoring the questions, too, and the suffering caused by shattered dreams.

Moses had a habit of railing against God when he got frustrated with the children of Israel.  Once or twice, God offered to wipe them off the face of the earth and start over. Those offers always brought Moses back to hopefulness.  “Aren’t these your children?” he would plead with God. At the end of the day, no matter how much suffering was involved, Moses settled on the side of life. And maybe that’s why, in his final days, he pleaded with God’s children to weigh blessings against curses, death against life. Moses cry is surely from the heart of God: “Oh, that you would choose life!”

Oh, that those who support and even profit from the abortion industry would hear Moses’ cry to choose life and in so doing, recover their own.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

9 thoughts on “Abortion, Ethics and the Church

  1. Love your work Carolyn, and there is plenty to criticize about our abortion statements, but more to criticize concerning how people wring interpretations that do not honor the statements we do have. I read your quotation in your article regarding “unacceptable pregnancies” but do not find it in the 2012 Discipline. I am hoping it is not there. Please let me know if somehow my Discipline is wrong or whether somehow the statement was added that speaks of “for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy ” My 2012 Discipline reads “…bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.” then on to… “We recognize tragic conflicts….” I also hope the statement “We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control..” is still in the discipline, as it is a counter to the overwhelming use for abortion. Jay Archer

    1. You’re exactly right, Jay. I stand corrected (and have corrected the blog). I was working off of an older Book of Discipline (which did include the phrase “unacceptable pregnancy;” evidently that has been removed). The statement I used to update the post comes from the United Methodist online Book of Dicipline, so is the most recent version, I assume. I remain unsupportive of the UMC’s position on abortion, since the spirit of it seems clearly in favor of undefined choice.

  2. I didn’t see in the comments thoughts about adoption. So many childless couples are seeking babies to adopt often with no luck.
    I too am very much prolife. If the mother’s life is in jeopardy late in the pregnancy then have a C-section and give a precious child a chance to live.
    I believe murdering of babies is at the top of the list of the “things that break the heart of God”

  3. Thank you for your graceful words. I, too, disagree with our church’s stance as stated in the Book of Discipline (which I read again in its entirety with some chagrin). My focus in the past had been on the phrasing that strongly opposes partial-birth abortion and working to minimize the need for selective abortion. I was reminded how those statements also encourage a socialized health care system that actually does not correlate with the scriptures used unless we intentionally diminish the separation of church and state, which is a whole other discussion. While our churches may not be able to unilaterally provide the care and counseling needed to diminish the desire for abortion and to support adoption, I have no problem collaborating with other NGO’s that carry our values and are working towards the same goals. Such cooperation is how we are getting ministry done between various churches and NGO’s in our small town community.

  4. So how did the UMC get to this position and actually support an abortion rights group? Did we choose social justice over truth?

    1. The UMC’s national boards and agencies have skewed left for decades. Their affiliation with abortion rights groups doesn’t reflect what is happening on the local level. The disconnect is a shame. There are so many faithful, orthodox Methodists in our churches who would not resonate at all with what happens in some denominational agencies. Always look to the local church. That’s where the Spirit is moving.

  5. “Pro-life” is so much more than too prevent or allow abortion. It is about loving the unwed mother’s and giving her life choices for both the mother and their babies, to offer them a future. It is about loving young women that look at motherhood as a statement of independence and of control when they don’t feel they have either, and showing them options. To say that pro-life is only about preventing abortions falls way short of addressing all the related pain and issues, it involves loving active involvement.

  6. “unacceptable pregnancy” What is this? No pregnancy is unacceptable, none!!! Wow that makes my blood boil and makes me sick to my stomach. That’s like saying “oh, this color on my wall is unacceptable, so I will paint over it”. This is …………………………. I think of the people who told my daughter to abort/give up on my grandson, it makes me very angry, the world would not be the same without him. So many people have been encouraged, smiled, laughed and enjoyed his life, I can’t even think of not having him. Oh, well just my 2 cents worth. Unacceptable pregnancy my foot!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *