Below is my final ethics paper. I am still working through my thoughts/beliefs on abortion, but this is where I am today. I could only write a max of 7 pages and had to use at least 5 sources, so I was limited in how deep I could go. I hope to continue reading/thinking about this topic. If you have any resources/insight, please feel free to send it my way!
Introduction to Christian Ethics
April 27, 2014
Dr. Reggie Williams
“Radical Love and Abortion as a form of Birth Control: Working towards justice for all”
“Love is the expression of the one who loves, not of the one who is loved. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discards truths about individuals that others cannot see.”– Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
This topic is very difficult for me to discuss, because I feel as though God is challenging me in my beliefs. For the past 25 years, I have been a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose whether or not an abortion is the right decision for her. However, this course has prompted me to question and reevaluate my beliefs. I have come to the conclusion that in order to realize the radical hospitality and love that Christ calls all Christians towards, the Christian community should not condone abortion.
Let me be very clear. I believe that in medically dangerous situations for the pregnant woman, abortion should be allowed. I believe that churches should encourage women to fight for their health and wellbeing in all matters, which might manifest itself as an abortion, equality in the workplace, etc. I believe in situations of rape, incest, and other such traumatic situations that lead to a pregnancy, Christian leaders should provide support for whatever decision the pregnant woman decides is best. When abortion is used as a form of birth control, after sexual intercourse between two consenting adults, this is where I have a problem. There are feminists who would argue in favor of abortion even in these cases, “where a woman finds herself pregnant through ignorance, carelessness or contraceptive failure”, and though I consider myself a feminist, I have to disagree. The power of humanity comes not from the biological ability to create a child, but from the ability to love others within culture and society. I believe that Christians are called to show radical hospitality and love towards all, which cannot be done through abortion.
When Does Life Begin?
This is a difficult question to ask the Bible because the average person in the twenty-first century has a much more scientific-based opinion of reproduction than the Biblical writers. Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life” (CEB). Here, the creation story shows the God created life and put life into human bodies. If this life is due to God’s good will, who can say that humans have the right to end a life? This text, however, does not talk about life formed in the womb through natural human reproduction. Isaiah 49:1 speaks to this, “Listen to me, coastlands; pay attention, peoples far away. The Lord called me before my birth, called my name when I was in my mother’s womb” (CEB). Isaiah speaks to receiving his call from God before birth and shows that God pays attention to the fetus in the womb.
Christians no longer live in a world without knowledge of science, and many Christians struggle with defining when life begins, because the scientific community has not been able to give a definitive answer. According to Peter Singer, it is “the absence of any obvious sharp line that divides the fertilized egg from the adult [that] creates the problem”. Unable to definitively say when life begins, the abortion discussion often revolves around the conversation of when life begins. Where is the line to be drawn? At birth? When the fetus is considered viable?
“The fact that life is truly a continuum further complicates the question of when a new life commences. […] In light of the continuous nature of living cells, defining the beginning of a new organism as the onset of zygotic transcription or the breakdown of nuclear membranes is intellectually and scientifically unsatisfying. [These points] are arbitrary, variable, and not indicative of any fundamental change in the entity under consideration”.
In her article, When Does Human Life Begin?, Dr. Maureen Condic attempts to scientifically work through the question of human life. As she shows, life is a continuum, which means finding its starting and ending points can be somewhat complex. The places that many pro-choice individuals like to point at to declare the start of life are shown to be “arbitrary”.
“If fertilization is seen as a process rather than as an event, then prior to the completion of this process the zygote is not yet fully present. Based on this view, the cell that results from the fusion of sperm and egg is not a new individual but, as expressed recently by a colleague, merely ‘a unique human cell in the process of becoming a new human, but not there yet’. This way of thinking about human development is compelling to many because it is similar to our thinking about the much more familiar process of manufacturing. [… And yet] the embryo is not something that is being passively built by the process of development, with some unspecified, external ‘builder’ […] the embryo is manufacturing itself”
Condic goes on to show that even the fertilization process is a continuum that is difficult to pinpoint. The embryo, following the pattern laid out in the DNA, gets to work manufacturing itself. Through a process she deems purely scientific, Condic shows that in the instant the sperm and egg meet, the embryo is formed and conception has occurred. Her conclusions show that the evidence points to human life forming at the moment of conception.
Beverly Harrison argues that pro-life and pro-choice groups both respect and value human life. The difference comes from what each group defines as human life. Harrison writes that Christian theologians need to take a closer look at the complex issue of human life, prenatal life and how Christianity has treated these stages of life in the past. In order to women to have full rights, conception cannot equal human life. How could it be possible, Harrison asks, for someone to value the life of a zygote over the years of existence of the woman? The power of humans is not the biological ability to have a child, but the love it takes to shape a person within culture/society.
Still others argue that human life does not begin until the fetus is viable. “The point at which the fetus can survive outside the mother’s body varies according to the state of medical technology. […And] fetuses born after as little as five and a half months of gestation have survived”. Since viability depends so strongly on medical technology, the same fetus would have different chances of survival depending on which country the pregnant woman lives.
Given the complex nature of the human life continuum, I believe that human life begins at conception. There is not a clear point after conception that the zygote transforms into a human being, so starting at the beginning is easiest.
Abortion as Birth Control
Women are entitled to birth control. Women should be encouraged to physically live out their sexuality, without risk of unwanted pregnancy. However, pregnancy is a possible outcome or result of sex. This is a fact that every adult must consider before acting. The feminist argument in favor of contraception includes abortion as a form of contraception. Sidney Callahan, a pro-life feminist, challenges this view. The right a person has over their body extends to organs and contraceptives, but not an embryo. Pregnancy is not like a disease or cancer, because it is the process through which all new human life is born. Using abortion as a form of birth control is just another manifestation of the powerful in society exercising their control over the weak individuals in society. When the powerful say that another human organism is without a soul, rights are taken away. Should an individual be able to end the development of another without consultation by anyone else? If human life is indeed a continuum, who (Callahan asks) has the right to define when it begins?
In his paper, The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine, Mark Cherry raises a number of important differences between Christian bioethics and secular bioethics. His point that secular bioethics emphasizes the individualistic nature of culture in the United States is a particularly important one to make. Since secular bioethics does not place God in a position of authority, the individual is instead given that role, and “personal autonomy is highlighted as integral to human good and human flourishing, with individuals choosing life values, private perceptions of virtue, and moral content for themselves”. Cherry writes, “abortion and infanticide are interpreted as giving women personal control over their reproductive lives, and as thereby liberating them from the burdens of childcare”. This intersection of an individualistic society and a desire for women to have control over their own bodies has resulted in abortion being seen as a viable contraceptive option for many.
I strongly disagree with Cherry’s opinion of the LGBTQ community and believe that marriage is not just meant for men and women. I do not believe that one’s sexuality is a choice and believe that children should be encouraged to discover their own sexuality (which encompasses more than just experimenting with the physical act of sex). Though I disagree with much of what Cherry writes, I agree with his critique of abortion. For a Christian, “properly framed medical decision making requires recognizing that all persons are in a relationship with God. This core relationship exists regardless of whether particular individuals choose to recognize this fact of the matter”. Though I believe each individual is entitled to defining his or her own relationship with God, all Christians must acknowledge this relationship, especially in matters of abortion. By using abortion as a form of birth control, women act immorally and irresponsibly. Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all.” Abortion (when used as recreational birth control) is an act without love.
Christian Community Support
Regardless of one’s position on abortion, individuals are connected through their desire to protect human life. Feminists (either pro-life or pro-choice) are all working towards helping women achieve equality in society. Christianity at its core is working to bring justice for all. A truly just society would realize all of these desires because at the core, each is trying to protect human life. If equality truly existed, would abortion even be an issue discussed in bioethics? Working together with feminists groups, Christian communities should help society reach equality. This can happen through welfare programs. If women are not burdened with the responsibility of raising the baby alone, and instead received support from church congregations, society and the government, would the number of abortions decrease?
Martha Ellen Stortz struggled with these questions in her essay, Dear Children of My Daughter:
As I began to think about the community called church, I felt compelled to raise these broader considerations. Because we professed a physical, as well as spiritual, concern for the members of our community, we had to raise issues of sex, marriage, and family; issues of gender, race, and class. We had to point out that proposed regulation of abortion would not alter the availability of the services to wealthy women, who could travel to a state with liberal laws. […] We had to emphasize that the costs of childbearing and childrearing fell increasingly upon the nuclear family and often upon the mother alone. We had to reiterate that the primary responsibility for contraception still fell on women. […] We had to protest federal cuts in welfare, health care, and education”.
She came to the conclusion that church congregations are not doing enough to work for equality. Though her words were written about the church in the 1980s and 1990s, they still ring true today. As she writes, there is a gap between where the church is and where it is called to be. Wealthy women still benefit above poorer women when it comes to access to resources. The responsibility towards using contraception is still mainly put on the woman and budget cuts have dramatically affected the effectiveness of welfare, health care and education (especially for women and children).
Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion. My godmother, Marj, owned and operated her own adoption agency. She and her husband were unable to have children, and instead of adopting their own, Marj worked to make sure that other families could adopt a child. When she passed away a few years ago, hundreds of families wrote cards, sent flowers and attended the funeral to show their support and gratitude for her years of dedication. Some of the children came from other countries, but a majority of the babies came from women who did not want the child, but who also did not want to have an abortion. I grew up believing that adoption was a perfectly natural thing to do. Marj was not particularly religious, so I did not put adoption into the context of Christian community or radical hospitality/love until I was much older. Adoption as an alternative to abortion is an expression of love, as described by Søren Kierkegaard.
Finally, churches need to facilitate discussion about abortion within their congregational communities. I cannot think of a single time abortion was explicitly mentioned in church within the context of a sermon, bible study or book discussion. Christianity is not meant to be a comfortable religion that allows Christians to become complacent with the status quo. Individuals need to be challenged on their views so that they may grow, learn to put their beliefs in the context of Jesus’s call, and discover how to live a Christian life in a secular society.
Struggles that remain
There are still some struggles that remain, even after putting abortion into the context of Jesus’s call of radical hospitality, love and justice. Many of the feminist arguments assume that having a child will ruin the life of the pregnant woman. On the contrary, other options exist for the pregnant woman besides an abortion. The Christian community needs to do a better job of providing support for pregnant women so that they do not feel alone.
How can we, as a Christian community, have a stance on a moral issue that many people will ignore or merely make them feel guilty? Women will continue to have abortions, regardless of the legality or societal acceptance of abortions. How can the Christian community continue to support its members if women are ashamed of their actions, sacred of revealing their illegal/immoral actions, and/or worried about the backlash? “In those Latin American countries that prohibit abortion or allow it only in very limited circumstances, illegal abortions are widespread and a major cause of death and injury to young women”. How can the church take a stance that will cause so much harm, pain (both physical and emotional) and death?
The individualistic nature of society in the United States has permeated my opinion on abortion. I still want to be able to say that women should always have the option to choose to have an abortion. But I cannot in good conscience continue to voice that as my opinion. Christians must work towards justice in all aspects of life, which requires taking a pro-life stance when it comes to abortion as a form of birth control.
Callahan, Sidney. “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda.” In Moral Issues and Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 363-370. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.
Cherry, Mark J. "Sex, Abortion, and Infanticide: The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine." Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality 17, no. 1 (January 2011): 25-46. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2014).
Condic, Maureen L. “When Does Human Life Begin: A Scientific Perspective.” The Westchester Institute For Ethics & The Human Person 1, no. 1 (October 2008): 1-12. [http://bdfund.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/wi_whitepaper_life_print.pdf]
Harrison, Beverly Wildung and Shirley Cloyes. "Theology and Morality of Proactive Choice." In Moral Issues & Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung, 355-362. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.
Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Stortz, Martha Ellen. “Dear Children of My Daughter.” In Confessing Conscience: Churched Women on Abortion, edited by Phyllis Tickle and Marilou Awiakta, 13-25. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.
 Peter Singer, Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2011), 133.
 Beverly Wildung Harrison and Shirley Cloyes. "Theology and Morality of Proactive Choice." In Moral Issues & Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2013), 359.
 Singer 125
 Maureen L. Condic. “When Does Human Life Begin: A Scientific Perspective.” The Westchester Institute For Ethics & The Human Person 1, no. 1 (October 2008): [http://bdfund.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/wi_whitepaper_life_print.pdf], 2.
 Condic 11
 Condic 12
 Harrison 359
 Singer 127
 Sidney Callahan. “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda.” In Moral Issues and Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013, page 365.
 Callahan 365
 Mark J. Cherry. "Sex, Abortion, and Infanticide: The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine." Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality 17, no. 1 (January 2011): Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2014), 26.
 Cherry 27
 Cherry 33
 Cherry 38
 Harrison 361
 Martha Ellen Stortz, “Dear Children of My Daughter.” In Confessing Conscience: Churched Women on Abortion, edited by Phyllis Tickle and Marilou Awiakta. Nashville: Abingdon Press (1990), 22.
 Singer 130