I SUPPORT LIFE! I’ve seen this quoted several times this week, because of the annual March for Life and the recent vote by New York lawmakers to radically expand legal abortions within that state. I identify myself with the life and teachings of Jesus and therefore I must align myself with the idea that I support life. There is, though, a major dilemma I must face in making the statement I support life. I must recognize that support of something, anything, is not a passive event, it is active. Yet, I fear that many who make the statement, including myself, want to remain passive. Of the thousands who marched on D.C. last week how many would continue marching for life if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow?
Right now you are probably asking why would Pro-Life demonstrators would need to march if abortion was illegal. The reason is because the battle over life would not be won simply because it was illegal to stop life in the womb. Here’s what I mean, Jesus does not call us to support biological life as if once a human enters the world and can think and feel life has happened and we have done our job. Unfortunately that seems to be precisely what many in the Pro-Life camp seem to think, or at least that is what I hear when I listen to their words. At this point I do not want anyone to misunderstand me, I do believe that part of being Pro-Life is to honor the process of procreation which brings us into this world. I also recognize that as with many areas of medical science the ethical difficulties surrounding the termination of an abortion are complex and I leave those to individuals with far better training for such challenges. But allow me to wade into the controversy with this one thought for those of us who claim the title Pro-Life.
To begin I want to consider the life and teachings of Jesus; he was not content with people living a biological life, he wanted them (us) to fully engage in the vocation which God had given humanity. Jesus did not simply want us to have life he wanted us to have Life. Jesus did not simply want us to open our eyes, breathe, meet him, and go to heaven. He wanted us to live out human existence in this world, meaning we are to realize the full potential of our humanity, to be true sons and daughters of God. Mere existence is not enough for Jesus. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b NIV)” We are to be the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We are called to be God’s presence in this creation, surely this is more than eating, sleeping, breathing, etc., it is bringing the Divine to creation. Life is about bringing joy and peace to the world, and this is, I think, what Jesus would mean by Pro-Life. So I submit this has to be our definition of Pro-Life not a biological function, but a reality in which each person has the opportunity to live out Jesus’ ideals.
Recently a family member of mine was in a discussion with a woman who counsels pregnant women in an economically disadvantaged area. He asked her, “Why do these women go through with abortions if they understand they are about to give birth to another person?” His response, “They don’t have hope.” These women see no future for the child of a (often single) mother without much education among the urban poor. Read between the lines of what the woman said, these women see no future for either themselves or the child they are to parent, no potential to be fully human and live out Life as Jesus would have them live. At this point some might dive into the dangers of back-alley abortions if Roe is overturned. But I would like to point to a different track, the proliferation of sin, depression, and dysfunction in the world. I do not think that many of these women (though surely some) would have the means to go through a underground abortion. But these women who have lost hope who are in despair would be raising children with no hope, whose lives are characterized by despair and depression, and who would be at increased risk to harm themselves or others. As I see it this leaves us with a problem, to overturn Roe is to create a host of cultural problems.
Indeed, the developing baby is a dependent neighbor who is to be nurtured and cared for from the moment of conception by the entire Christian community. If the fetus is our neighbor, and if the heart of God’s law is love for God and neighbor, the canon law’s strictness and severity concerning abortion makes sense. To take innocent life—whether in war or in failing to protect neighbors who lack the ability to care for themselves, whether in the womb or outside it—is treated with appropriate seriousness by the ancient church. Christopher A. Hall Living Wisely with the Church Fathers p. 190.
Rather if we are truly to be Pro-Life people we must address the life circumstances of the mothers-to-be before we advocate that their decision is wrong. Let’s petition the government on behalf of these mothers, let’s take them under our wings and show them there is hope. I am growing concerned that political advocates simply want Roe overturned so they can sit back and claim the job is done. As the Hall quote shows we think abortion is wrong because it is abuse of neighbor, and it is also abuse of neighbor to leave her in a hopeless situation. While I am on the subject it is also abuse of neighbor to call them demonic and to say they have a special place in hell, as I have seen done to the New York lawmakers and ex-Ohio Governor Kasich. These slurs are not becoming of those who want to spread Life.
Why not, instead of throwing so much money and time at political rallies and events with expensive celebrity speakers, let’s devote ourselves to our pregnant neighbors who feel lost, alone, and abandoned in the world. I am convinced, because I’ve seen it played out, that time and money spent on women taking them under our wings pays greater dividends than political rallies. Granted, this is not an either or debate, but a question of priority, where are the priorities of those who claim to speak Life, I believe for the average person in the Pro-Life camp they are in the legislature not with the neighbor. This is gritty how many of us are willing to support a pregnant neighbor, and realistically on of the things she needs is community. I do not simply mean giving to a pregnancy center, I mean volunteering or otherwise engaging in one to get to know the women who come in, meeting them interacting with them and becoming friends with them. These are daunting and dangerous steps but they are the steps our predecessors took when abortion was common in the ancient world. These valiant women and men did not simply advocate for biological existence they loved their neighbor and offered her Life. Early Christians were known for protecting pregnant women, and adopting unwanted children, they took in those in need and spread the love and Life of Jesus through these actions. If I want to be Pro-Life, if I want the minds of the legislatures changed I need to begin with loving my neighbor because it is her witness not mine that will ultimately prove to be the louder voice.
For insight into the early Church’s beliefs see:
Michael J Gorman Abortion and the Early Church
Christopher A. Hall Living Wisely with the Church Fathers