2008-01-29

My position on Abortion

As an Evangelical I believe the bible. I believe that it was written by God, whose Holy Spirit ensured that its human writers were able to write what was correct and true. I'm also fairly strong on the issue of Sola Scriptura - the belief that the Bible is the sole authority that believers should turn to to discern what to believe and how to live. This is not to say that I worship the Bible (I don't) - but what it does mean is that I believe that the Holy Spirit lives and works in us whenever we read and study the text of Scripture (which includes private study, small group bible studies and preaching from pastors / teachers / presbyters / overseers). If we are to listen to God, then we are to listen to Him speak through the Bible, in the way that He has written it.

The practice of Abortion is not mentioned in the Bible. Nevertheless, we can discern from scripture that an unborn baby in whatever form it takes is considered a living human being by God. Bible references for this include Psalm 139 and Exodus 21.22-25 but include many others.

Given that this is the case, the only true attitude that Christians should have towards abortion is that it is the deliberate killing of a human life. As part of our ministry in the world, which includes the preaching of the Gospel, must be the clear proclamation of God's ethical standards. Moreover, Christians should take steps to protect the weak and unsupported - it was, may I point out, Christians who were the most vocal opponents of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

So. Abortion is wrong and Christians should do something about it. But what?

Ever since Roe vs Wade in the United States essentially legalised abortion, Christians have been at the forefront of fighting against it. The effect of Roe vs Wade has not just been to legalise abortion, but to also legitimise it in society. Since the early 1970s, our society has become increasingly tolerant of abortion. In Australia, a Roy Morgan Poll in 2006 indicated that about 65% of Australians supported abortion, while 22% were opposed with 13% unsure. Polling in the US shows a similar trend.

Of course, ethics and morals are sourced from God, not public opinion. The fact that a supermajority of people in Australia and the US support abortion means nothing when it comes to determining right and wrong.

Nevertheless, the sheer amount of people who support abortion should give Christians pause to think. Ever since the first protests against abortion were made by Christians in the 1970s, the focus has been solely upon prohibition - making abortion illegal. Moreover, this focus has meant that politicians have been able to use the issue as a way to get people's votes. This is very much the case in the United States, where Republican politicians are more likely to indicate a pro-life stance than their Democrat colleagues. Along with attitudes towards homosexuality, the Republicans in the United States have become the party which Christians want to vote for. Here in Australia, none of the three major parties (Liberal, National, Labor) welcomes an anti-abortion message, though the more conservative parties (Liberal, National, Family First, Christian Democrat) are more likely to have pro-life people active in them.

The problem (the "elephant in the room" as Craig Schwarze would put it) is that the pro-life movement has failed - completely and spectacularly. Despite 30 years of protests, political action and even violence (albeit from a militant minority), western society has embraced abortion. Despite the efforts of the pro-life movement, support for abortion has increased since the early 1970s. While pro-life people argue and agitate to make abortion illegal, a considerable majority of people wish to keep it legal. Moreover, voting for politicians who support the pro-life camp has resulted in absolutely no change at all in abortion laws. For example, from 1994 until 2006, the US congress was controlled by conservative Republicans who had been voted in by the American people to enact conservative legislation - which included support from pro-life groups. Despite 12 years of congressional control (of which 6 years were spent under a conservative president who would not veto conservative legislation), Roe vs Wade was never repealed, abortions were not reduced and public opinion of abortion did not swing enough towards the pro-life position (if it swung at all). So much for political agitation.

So while I believe that abortion laws have resulted in the deaths of millions of unborn infants over the years, I cannot support the current pro-life strategy. Barring a revival in Western Countries and a subsequent acceptance of biblical ethics, a substantial majority of people in our society will support abortion and prevent any attempt to make it illegal. The efforts of the pro-life movement are essentially in vain - their strategy ensures that they will lose.

And that is, of course, the tragedy. While pro-lifers jump up and down and protest, unborn babies are still being aborted. By focusing upon prohibition, pro-lifers are failing to protect the innocent and are failing to stop abortions. Not only are their efforts in vain, their efforts are actually encouraging abortion by not taking an alternative stance. This is because pro-lifers have not examined any alternative strategies.

The best sort of strategy is the one which will result in the best outcome. I am a fan of measurable outcomes, which is why the pro-life movement does not impress me - the outcome of their efforts is worse than when they started out. If pro-life people really want to make an impact, they need to adopt a strategy that will result in the best outcome.

And what is the best outcome? Is it the prohibition of abortion (making it illegal)? No. Believe it or not, that is the wrong objective to have. The correct objective, when taking the biblical evidence in hand, is for abortion rates to reach zero. The best outcome is zero abortion, and that can be achieved without focusing upon prohibition making it illegal.

To understand where I am coming from, pro-life people need to step into the shoes of pro-choice advocates. No matter what we think of them, the fact is that pro-choice people do not see themselves as evil, fascist, demon possessed servants of Satan. Instead, they see themselves as defenders of personal liberty, which is why they call themselves "pro-choice", rather than "pro-abortion". You see, this is because pro-choice people focus upon the freedom for a person to choose between keeping a baby or aborting it. Regardless of the theological and ethical problems of this attitude, pro-life people MUST understand that the issue for pro-choice people is choice.

I have spoken to pro-choice people over the years, both on the internet and in person. I have read their statements of values and their arguments. Pro-choice people do not think abortion is a wonderful experience that every woman should go through. Pro-choice people know that complications sometimes do occur after abortions which may prevent conception and child-bearing later on. Pro-choice people do know that abortion is a surgical procedure that has risks. And, most important of all, pro-choice people have no problem with declining abortion rates since they know that preventing unwanted pregnancies is better than abortion.

You see, pro-choice people are more concerned about a woman's choice to have an abortion than they are about the procedure itself. All pro-choice people believe that preventing unwanted pregnancies is an essential feature of woman's health, but, if an unwanted pregnancy does occur, they would argue that abortion should be a legal and safe option for the woman to consider. Moreover, they would support a woman's choice to keep her baby if that is what she wants - it is the choice that is important to pro-choice people, not the abortion procedure.

And this is where both pro-life people and pro-choice people can have some level of commonality. If pro-life people want zero abortions, and pro-choice people want safe and legal access to abortions, then surely there is common ground. But where?

Well, imagine a country in which abortions are safe and legal and where no abortions occur. Is it possible? Certainly. If women have the freedom to choose between keeping their baby or aborting it, and then all choose to keep them, then we have a situation in which both sides are happy. But is this possible?

A 1999 study by Henshaw, Singh and Haas examined the incidence of abortion throughout the world. What it discovered is that abortion numbers varied widely from country to country. Australia, for example, had an abortion rate of 22.2 (abortions per 1000 women) in 1995-96. The United States had a rate of 22.9. Germany, however, managed an abortion rate of 7.6. Other low rates include Belgium at 6.8, Finland at 10.0, Netherlands at 6.5 and Switzerland at 8.4. Spain and Italy, two very Roman Catholic countries, have abortion rates of 5.7 and 11.4. Countries that have large abortion rates include Bulgaria (51.3), Belarus (67.5), China (26.1), Romania (78.0) and Vietnam (83.3).

There are some rather important lessons to learn from this 1999 study. First of all, abortion rates in western countries are much lower than in developing countries. Second of all, countries which legalise abortion have lower abortion rates than countries where it is illegal.

Now I realise that might go against certain assumptions - yet it is clear that low abortion rates and legalised abortion do actually go hand in hand. For those who wish to make abortion illegal, it seems logical (though hard to accept) to assume that making it illegal will actually increase it.

But why so much disparity between countries? Why do secular Western European nations have lower abortion rates than conservative Christian America? Why are abortion rates lower in countries where abortion is accepted, and higher in countries where it is illegal or at least controversial (as in America)?

The key, I believe, is that legalised abortion in western nations has gone hand-in-hand with higher rates of prevention - that is, women in countries with legalised abortion are more likely to prevent conception from occurring in the first place. When women prevent unwanted conceptions, they are less likely to seek abortions.

And this is where I believe that both pro-life and pro-choice people have an area of commonality - the desire to prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. If pregnancies can be prevented, it means less abortions can take place. That would please the pro-life person because it would mean less deaths, and it should please the pro-choice person because women are choosing to prevent pregnancies.

So, what practical steps should happen?

Well, it means that new pro-life groups in Western countries need to form with the express purpose of reducing abortion to zero but without demanding that abortion be illegal. In other words, these pro-life groups would accept that abortion be legal so long as steps are taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies to ensure that abortion rates reach zero.

It would also mean that research needs to be done into why it is that abortion rates are so low in certain nations and so high in others. Why is abortion so low in Germany? Is it the culture? Is it due to government funded public education programmes? Are school sex education curriculums partly responsible? Rather than making an ideological choice (eg "government programs can never work"), the choice needs to be made based upon evidence and pragmatism. I suspect that much of the reason why Western European nations have such low abortion rates is because women in these countries are better educated in sexual health and prevent conception - and the education has come from publicly funded sources. If this has worked in these nations then it should be tried in places like America and Australia - and these new pro-life groups should be at the forefront of lobbying government to act.

Reducing abortion to zero through education and changes in public attitudes will take time - but it will happen. Every year we can expect abortion rates to drop. But if pro-life groups continue to take a hardline stance and demand that abortion be illegal, then we can expect little to occur and for abortion rates to continue as they are. I would rather real, measurable outcomes (a drop in abortion rates) rather than hardline rhetoric that solves nothing.

As Christians, we can assume that sin will continue to rule our society. Abortions may continue in our lifetime regardless of what we try to do. Moreover, despite the solutions I have offered in this paper, I am not trying to argue that some form of "utopia" can exist on earth whereby government laws prevent us from sinning. The only thing that truly saves us is the Gospel, and that is what Christians should be trying to achieve. God's ultimate solution to sin is the message of the cross. The solutions I have offered here may reduce abortion to zero in countries that practice them, yet this will not let people into heaven.

In other words, Christians should preach the Gospel first and foremost, while praying for a society that looks after those who cannot look after themselves.


14 comments:

Jeff A said...

Thanks for the informative post Neil. I wonder as ultrasound technology develops and greater understanding of early preganancy is gained whether the tide of public opinion will begin to shift independently of pro-life campaigning.

One Salient Oversight said...

Probably not to be honest. No matter how much movement or reactions a fetus / blastocyst may be viewed, once it is deemed that they are not "human" until later will persist.

It would be nice if this attitude will change, but I'm happy for this to remain if we can reduce abortions at the same time.

BLBeamer said...

Very good paper, Neil. Personally, I believe the CPC's are a much better strategy for achieving the zero abortion goal.

I volunteered at a local CPC for a year or two and I still support them monetarily. Aside from my personal experience, I know they must be accomplishing something since Planned Parenthood and its supporters attempt to enact legislation to stop them, as the Wikipedia article indicates.

From my experience, I think your comments about the good will of abortion rights supporters is generally accurate; but for those abortion rights supporters who are politically active, your comments regarding their good will are a little too charitable.

Luke S. said...

Excellent analysis Neil! This post should be forwarded to all pro-life bloggers/orgs for consideration.

@blbeamer, I think part of the solution Neil envisages (if I can put words in his mouth!) is getting past the us & them mentality and focus instead on a common goal of zero abortions. To achieve this I don't think we, as Christians, can be too charitable to people with differing/opposing views. If we want the abortion rate to reach zero, there should be no limit to our charity.

@Neil: "It would also mean that research needs to be done into why it is that abortion rates are so low in certain nations and so high in others."

Amen to that - those figures show that an abortion rate 1/3rd of ours, even with legal abortion, is possible, and therefore everyone (pro-life or pro-choice, Christian or non) should be able to support that as a realistic goal for our societies and then, ideally, a further downward trend from there.

BLBeamer said...

Thanks, Luke. I agree as Christians we should be charitable to all. However, that is not inconsistent with recognizing that not all of those who are pro-choice are charitable (let me make myself clear: many are).

In the US, Planned Parenthood makes lots of money providing abortions. It is not in their interest to have them go to zero. So, they are acting in their best interest to eliminate the "competition", as it were. PP is politically well-connected and not afraid to use their connections.

I concur with Neil's proposal regarding studying the reasons behind different rates between countries. I wish I could remember where I'd seen it, but I read an article a few years back that indicated their are differences between how such statistics are defined/collected between countries.

Dave Lankshear said...

Hi Neil,
some good thoughts. My dichotomy in this area was forcing me to make a decision I didn't necessarily have to make... EG: "Am I pro-choice or pro-life?" D'uh! Why not be both?

One problem may be that many "pro-lifers" in the USA are also staunchly "Pro-abstinence". In other words, there will be war if you suggest condoms in schools! (As the first ever episode of "West Wing" says, "It might make the boy's thoughts turn to lust!" As if that wasn't already there, in truckloads!)

John H said...

Neil: superb post. I realise on reading it that this is exactly my own position, but I'd never managed to express it so clearly and articulately.

BLBeamer said...

Hi, Dave - I'm not sure I would use the drug-addled writings of a famous partisan (Sorkin) to determine how the "great unwashed" actually feel in the US. "The West Wing" was not a documentary!

The abstinence movement is largely reactionary, as most movements in the pro-life camp are. Somehow the "West Wing" set sees nothing wrong with using the classroom as a pulpit for encouraging sexual activity among adloscents, despite the parents' wishes; yet they find an attempt to be more balanced (however ill-conceived) to be something beyond the Pale and evidence of a New Dark Age.

Dave Lankshear said...

"The West Wing" is a particularly sophisticated political fantasy. You'd never find any 5 politicians & public servants in the same room as articulate and intelligent as the characters portrayed in "West Wing". So there's no need to remind me that it's not a documentary — I don't know how many times I've wished that it was. (Actually having a President with a Phd in Economics might have been a bonus over the last decade, don't you think?)

Now, to the substance of your attack. Encouraging it how exactly? I think you are demonstrating exactly what I am talking about.

Do we prevent abortion, or shun easy access to condoms? Take your pick.

BLBeamer said...

My attack?? What or whom did I attack? Sorkin has had drug issues and he is famously partisan. You said that "there will be war" if condoms were suggested and then used a West Wing quote that seemed to be saying that those who are pro-abstinence are a bunch of yahoos.

I thought I was clear that the pro-abstinence movement was ill-conceived. What is it you believe I'm demonstrating?

I was only pointing out that those who advocate pro-abstinence programs are reacting to what they perceive as a school system and society already at war with their values.

There are fewer abstinence programs in schools than there are programs that advocate/encourage safe sex and provide birth control to children (sometimes without the parents' knowledge).

I don't think the public schools should be in the sex-ed business anyway, except for the biological aspects of it, but seeing as how the non-abstinence programs outnumber the abstinence programs, how has that been working out?

Dave Lankshear said...

Hi Beamer,
I was only using the word "attack" in the "different position" sense, not in a personal sense. You're a very polite blogger, especially given you discuss these issues with a couple of "watermelons" like Neil and I.

("Green on the outside, red in the middle." ;-)

So I wasn't offended or aggressive or anything like that.

I don't think the public schools should be in the sex-ed business anyway, except for the biological aspects of it, but seeing as how the non-abstinence programs outnumber the abstinence programs, how has that been working out?

Thing is, just as with abortion, we could have an "abstinence is better" program backed by contraception information "if you're going to ignore this anyway". It's not like putting condom vending machines around is going to actually increase boys thinking about sex... especially if they are blandly packaged. (Some of the packaging in chemists is soft porn!)

BLBeamer said...

Re: condom vending machines. I saw a very funny bit of graffitti on a washroom wall once. Right next to the condom dispenser, some wag had written,"Do not buy the gum from this machine! It is too chewy and tastes bad."

Like I said, I don't believe the schools should be in the sex-ed business. Sex is not something that should be taught in a value-less context. Each side feels the other's values are unacceptable. The schools may try to teach in a "value vacuum", but this is impossible. Just like nature, advocates abhor a vaccum. The fight is more about whose preferred values/context will prevail than it is about the actual content of the courses.

Boy, have we strayed from the original topic of Neil's paper. Sorry, Neil. I still like your paper.

Dave Lankshear said...

I read that condom vending machine joke to my wife, and we both cracked. I think it will hit me tonight when I'm bored doing the dishes, 2 weeks from now when I'm mowing the lawn, and 5 years from now when I'm putting the rubbish out! Some of these things come back to haunt you in new ways.

EG: I'm already trying to put characters in there. There's a very funny British comedy from the 80's called "The Young Ones". Neil and I love it. The punk "VYVYN" would be perfect for this gag. "Hey Mike, what's wrong with this chewing gum!? It's too chewy and tastes TERRIBLE!"

Back on subject... remember how I said:

Do we prevent abortion, or shun easy access to condoms? Take your pick. The prevention conundrum is back. Why do you think German abortion rates are down?

BLBeamer said...

I don't know why German abortion rates are down. The most recent data indicates American ones are, too.

I'm not sure I understand your conundrum. Are condoms difficult to acquire in Australia? They are easier to get than a cold here in the US.