Abortion and Shades of Gray

I got a song stuck in my head this morning. Strange enough, it was a song I wrote.

Back in high school, I was quite the “song” writer, though in truth they were more like poems since I didn’t write any music to them and kept the tunes in my head. I wrote hundreds of them, and each was of course awesome and destined for greatness in the tiny world of Christian-themed thrash metal.

They were very high-school – angsty and self-assured. I knew what was wrong with the world, and I knew how to fix it, Metallica-style. It may not surprise you to learn they were intensely political and judgmental. Only two of them ever got set to real music. We had a little garage band (in truth, a church-sanctuary band because that’s where the sound system and drums were) called Distortion X, and our big song, other than the copious Metallica and Creed (yes, Creed) covers, was “I’m Not an American,” words by … me.

I’m not going to regale you with the whole song, but the chorus can give you an idea of what it was like:

An American I’m not
‘Cause America’s forgot
Where she came from
In God we trust
Not anymore she must
‘Cause it’s politically incorrect
An America with equality for all men
Even for those who haven’t been born yet
That’s the U.S. to which I am a citizen
So for now I’m not an American

Hello, Grammys!

A lot has changed since those days; frankly, a lot of those songs I wrote, including this one, are pretty embarrassing to read a decade later. I’ve thought of throwing them away, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. They remind me of a simpler time, and many of them were written at specific moments and in certain places I’m not quite ready to forget.

The main thrust of “I’m Not an American” – which my former bandmates, who kept the band going for a while after I left for college, dropped from their rotation after 9/11 for some reason – is obviously pro-life (opening line: “What is the American creed? ‘Kill the unborn, watch them bleed.'” Burn!). And of the many changes I’ve undergone in the past decade, I have not – and don’t expect to – change this one.

I am still firmly pro-life, though my definition of what that means has changed over the years.

For those who most frequently use the term, it seems their definition gets pretty small, applying only to babies before they are born. I apply it to all life – including the lives of babies post-birth, adults and even convicted criminals. As a society, the less we can kill our fellow human beings, even if we think they can deserve it, the better off we are. I feel strongly about this.

But I also feel strongly that issues aren’t so black and white as we’d like. Abortion as a general rule remains a blot on our national conscience, but of course there are exceptions that can and must be made. Likewise, what to do about it is a difficult question. Simply outlawing it pushes those seeking abortions – usually poor and desperate to begin with – into back alleys, where black-market abortions risk their lives, too.

And those politicians who are pro-choice but personally opposed to abortion – such as President Obama – generally have better ideas for reducing the number of children killed through abortion than do those politicians who are pro-life (funding for low-income family-planning centers, sex education that includes the use of contraceptives, etc.), so I also reject the pro-life movement’s general abortion litmus test.

Finally, there’s the question of faith and science, embodied in today’s Personhood Amendment vote in Mississippi.

If you haven’t heard about it, Mississippi residents today will vote on an amendment to their state constitution that would define a person as existing from conception, thus effectively outlawing any action that would terminate a fertilized egg, including abortion.

But it raises some difficult questions. For example, most forms of birth control, including the pill, carry the “risk” that a fertilized egg will essentially be “aborted” by failing to implant into the uterine wall. Fertility treatments often involve the freezing of fertilized eggs for future use. This raises uncomfortable questions: Are parents who want so desperately to bring life into the world actually guilty of mass murder under this proposal? Will early-term mothers who miscarry be subject to criminal investigation to ensure they did not end the pregnancy intentionally?

And although the amendment’s proponents argue the amendment would not prevent a doctor from saving the life of a mother during a potentially fatal pregnancy or delivery, there’s no language in the amendment providing such an exception.

Finally, there’s the scientific question. Despite the numerous pro-life blogs and websites arguing otherwise, there is not a scientific consensus on when life begins – in part because, even if everyone could agree fertilization was that moment, fertilization itself does not necessarily occur at a specific moment. It can take as long as four days. The embryo isn’t personalized until two weeks after conception. With death defined as the stopping of brain activity, should life be defined at its start (24-27 weeks)? Other biologists argue life is a continuum, and that since the sperm and egg were both alive, it’s impossible to say life “began” at any point after the first single-cell organisms developed on earth. And even if we could agree on a seminal moment for life, is this the same as the seminal moment of personhood, deserving full protection as such? Biologists seem to say no.

One final question this all prompts: If pro-life evangelical Christians (and others) are so adamant about life beginning at conception, why don’t they adopt the Catholic prohibition against all forms of birth control, given most of them contain the risk of “aborting” a fertilized egg? (In fairness, I do know pro-life evangelicals who are consistent on this issue, but most are not.)

After all these questions, I feel like I should wrap this up with a strongly worded conclusion. But I can’t. I’m still learning on many things, and this is one of them. I remain firm in my conviction that unborn children deserve the same protection from our government as live ones – and that our government doesn’t do enough to protect the live ones. But what does that protection look like in reality? It seems the answer isn’t as clear as I thought it was 10 years ago.

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7 comments on “Abortion and Shades of Gray

  1. Katie S. says:

    I’d venture to say that life begins at conception based on Psalm 139:16.

    “Your eyes saw my substance being yet UNFORMED, and in
    Your book they were all written: the days fashioned for me…when
    as yet there were none of them.” ~Psalm 139:16

    If God Almighty already knows us BEFORE we are even conceived by our parents, then I’m led to believe that He values life even before we are a “substance” and therefore, the least we can believe is that life begins at conception.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Katie!

      The Hebrew Bible has an odd mixture of messages about prenatal life. There is that verse – the Common English Bible renders “unformed” as “embryo,” which is interesting, I think – as well as Psalm 139:13 (“you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb”) and a couple of references in Isaiah 44. Jeremiah 1:5 is similar to the verse you cite: “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.” In the end, all these verses point to a couple of truths: That God foreknows our lives before we’re born – before we’re even conceived, in fact – and that we are alive before we’re born, which no one disputes (Luke 1:41 gives an example of why no one would argue that late-term abortion ends a human life).

      But there are also passages like this one in Exodus 21:

      22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. 23 If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, 24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, 25 a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.

      In this case, the Book of the Covenant does not treat a miscarriage the same as if the mother herself were to die. Ecclesiastes 11:5 is simply odd, perhaps reflecting the pre-scientific era’s mystery of exactly how babies develop in there: “Just as you don’t understand what the life-breath does in the fetus inside a pregnant woman’s womb, so you can’t understand the work of God, who makes everything happen.”

      Once again, I think there is a desire to make an ancient text, written by people who did not have modern-day notions of scientific knowledge or accuracy, speak to modern-day scientific questions. That’s asking the Bible to support something it’s not written to support.

      For example, the apocryphal book of Wisdom has a verse similar to the ones in Psalm 139, and I think it reflects more clearly what the psalmist is conveying: “My flesh was molded into shape during the time that I was in my mother’s womb.” (Wisdom 7:1) Similarly 2 Maccabees 7:22-23, where a mother tells her son, ““I don’t know how you grew in my womb, nor did I grant the breath of life to you or arrange what makes you who you are. For this reason, the creator of the world—who brought about the beginning of humanity and searched out the origin of all things—will again mercifully give you both spirit and life …”. The ancient writers knew babies lived in the womb before they were born, and they knew God foreknew their stories, but in terms of defining the beginning of human life, I don’t think they were intended to support an argument there.

      All that to say: I agree with you in believing life begins at conception, and many scientists agree, too, which is enough to convince me on the subject. But many scientists disagree, if only on the basis that “conception” is hard to define, and that indicates to me that I should not be so quick to close the door on other people’s viewpoints on this matter.

  2. Katie S. says:

    Hi Paul,

    In a twist of sad irony here, a close friend of mine from childhood days – who I’ll call “M” – recently had an abortion… just last week. It was supposed to be a “secret thing” but of course people find out. The truth always comes out. This friend has professed to being born-again as recently as 2 years ago.
    Another Christian friend and I – I’ll call her “L” -took the Matthew 18 approach with her last week. “L” went to try to lovingly talk to her and plead for the life of the baby. (She was TWELVE weeks along!) This other friend and I KNEW we had to be loving. It wasn’t our job to condemn. That comes from the Holy Spirit – if in fact she really is a child of God’s. “L” basically got kicked out and was told “It’s my CHOICE”.
    The next night (she had it scheduled for the following day), based on the Matthew 18 principle, 3 of us went. We were told it was “too late…the ‘process’ had already started.” She was so cold about it. That daughter/son meant NOTHING to her. I told her I would have loved to have taken the baby and she laughed at me. Laughed at me! She said “I would never carry a baby to term, and then just GIVE it away.”
    So murdering him/her is better.
    I went home and sobbed for that little baby. And for my friend. And then I got sick. Violently sick. I have to say that I’m still walking around in a stupor these days. I feel as though there was a murder that took place and no one is being held responsible. In the short time I “knew” that baby, I loved him/her.
    I’m having a very difficult time with this. I literally & truly cannot make a distinction from an abortion to a mother who smothers her brand new (live, outside-the-womb) baby. No one would EVER stand for THAT! Can you imagine? It’s the first day home from the hospital, and you’re overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a new parent, you decide “it’s my choice” and this baby will be better off. So you kill it by smothering it. You say it’s “humane” – they didn’t feel anything. That mom/dad would be thrown into prison for YEARS, and there would be a crazy riot outside of their courtroom. I don’t see any difference. At all.
    And at TWELVE weeks?!! At 12 weeks, they are FULLY formed! They’re small but they’re fully formed. They are swallowing, producing urine, maybe sucking their thumbs. The webbing on their hands & feet is no longer there. Their genitals are formed (although too small to be seen by ultrasound), their teeth buds are forming. How is this OK?!
    I’ve never been so sad & disgusted all at once. I’ve never had it hit close to home either. I’ve always known I was “Pro-Life” – based on what I believe God says. But, now that I’ve KNOWN a life that was killed from being a “choice”, I feel as though a fire has been lit under me.
    I will admit here that I’m really struggling with forgiveness. I want to be like Jesus here. I do love my friend, but believe me – who I saw last week was not my friend. I know Jesus takes a hard stand against sin. He says if we’re neither hot nor cold He’ll spit us out. I don’t want to be spit out. I want to love her, but I want to take a stand against sin. She’s totally unrepentant. I have a very hard time wondering how I’ll EVER be able to be her friend again. I couldn’t be friends with someone who murders their live child & calls it “choice”. What makes this different?

    Thanks for taking the time to listen to my rambling thoughts. I couldn’t help but share here, after what happened in my life last week. If I wasn’t clear before or I seemed wishy-washy – let me be VERY clear now. I am all for LIFE. At the moment of conception and beyond.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks for deciding to come here to share your thoughts.

      I don’t know that I have anything particularly useful to say for you as you work through your grief, except to say that I understand and agree with your feelings. Those of us who have been through pregnancy (either directly or as a spouse/partner) I think have a particular horror at the notion of choosing to end the life growing within. And I agree it’s not OK or morally acceptable. You have every right to be angry and sorrowful at such injustice.

      This past year, I feel like I’m getting to know God more than I ever have before – especially about his limitless love and mercy. While I’m not trying to diminish the feelings you have, I do want to encourage you to remember that God loves your friend – that he chose to love her before she had this abortion, and he chose to do so despite knowing already she would do it.

      As you know, we live in a broken world, and your friend’s choice is ample evidence. But it is also evidence of her own brokenness, her own hurt and desperation, her own humanity. Abortion is a hideous act, but I firmly believe I am guilty of no less hideous mistakes in God’s eyes. Yet he loves me and forgives me and blesses me despite the things I’ve done to hurt him and hurt others of his children. He is no less capable of loving your friend – indeed, I am certain he loves her just as much today as he did two weeks ago. I suspect you agree with this intellectually. Do you *believe* it?

      More practically, her actions betray a deep hurt; her antipathy toward her friends strikes me as a mask, a wall to protect herself from being hurt further. She fully expects your anger, hatred and rejection. She likely expects the same from God. I think you have a choice as to how you treat her – not only as a friend but as a representative of the God she needs to bring her out of whatever trap in which she’s been caught.

      You say Jesus takes “a hard stand” against sin. And you can certainly argue that case convincingly; however, I think it might be more accurate to say Jesus’ stance against sin was not hard enough for the religious leaders of his day. He rejected attempts to stone the woman caught in adultery; he ate with the tax collectors, who were very likely cheating the poor to enrich their own bank accounts; and one of his last acts was to forgive someone whose crimes merited execution. To love the hurting, even in the face of their unspeakable sin, is truly showing them Jesus. And it sounds like that’s who your friend needs most of all. What if you are the only person in her life able to help her find him again?

      Just some thoughts. I don’t know the situation, obviously, but the little experience I have with sinning tells me that the point at which people are the hardest to reach is probably the point at which they need you most.

  3. Katie S. says:

    Thank you so much. Everything you said, I agree with.
    I believe just as God knows us before we are even conceived, He knew she would do this and end her baby’s life. I also know that it didn’t take Him by surprise and He was like “Oh, I’ll have to go nail that sin to the cross now.” It was already paid for. The thought gives me the chills.
    He loves her. I love her.
    I think what I’m really, really struggling with is:
    1.) Forgiveness. I know (and yes, I believe) in my heart that I must. I’m JUST AS MUCH OF A SINNER. Far be it for me to say her sin is worse than mine. God would be so disappointed in me. I’ve been praying every day that Jesus gives me a heart like His and that I can look at her as He does. But…she’s completely unrepentant. She was simply embarrassed by the pregnancy. She even told us “It’s nothing I’m ashamed of” (the abortion). She claims to be a Christian, which brings me to my second point.
    2.) How do I be her friend?
    Am I supposed to pick up the phone and talk about the weather? Do we talk about work? She just killed her baby! I sincerely have no idea where to go from here. I want her to know that I’m here if/when she needs to talk. When she’s sorry. I’m not her judge, but I only know one way to minister – with God’s love. She told me and our other friend “You guys and your Christian values…you think what I’m doing is murder, and it’s not.”
    So…that’s my personal struggle. I love the story you brought up about the woman caught in adultery. I’ve been thinking a lot on that myself. I know all this. I believe all this. I’m struggling with how to put it into practice with her. I’m literally asking myself minute by minute this week “What Would Jesus Do?” I pray I do the right thing.
    Whew…abortion hurts everyone.

    • Paul says:

      There’s a reason I didn’t give any kind of advice on how exactly to do any of the things I suggested. 🙂 Good luck. I’ll be praying for both of you.

  4. Katie S. says:

    Thanks…I need all the prayer I can get! Thanks for your encouragement too. 🙂

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