Abortion, and Christian conservatives.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Many ancient cultures used to strangle or smother a baby after birth. Ex 1.16 Or drown it, either in a nearby river Ex 1.22 or the local bathhouse. The Romans were notorious for exposing their unwanted kids to the elements: If a patriarch didn’t consider their child healthy enough, or simply didn’t want another kid, he could order it to be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure.

The scriptures don’t specifically condemn such practices as murder… but neither do they treat ’em as if they’re not murder.

Miscarriage does come up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage.

Exodus 21.22-25 KJV
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“Her fruit depart” implies a premature birth; “mischief follow” implies the baby is born dead, or dies. So the guy who punched the mother could merit a life-for-life penalty. Unless the judge or her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—her patriarch, meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law, or whatever man had the care of her—had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

Now obviously there are Christians who read this passage differently. They figure “her fruit depart” means of course the child died, and “mischief follow” actually means the woman had complications, which varied. Hence that list of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etcetera: These were all the types of “mischief” which might follow. If the man knocked her eye out, he’d have to pay with his own eye. But if the man knocked her fetus out… he’d only have to pay a fine. Because a fetus doesn’t count as a life. And hey, they could always make another.

So, some Christians are adamant this passage proves a fetus is a baby, and other Christians are adamant this passage proves just the opposite. Which one they go with, largely depends on their abortion politics.

Because, like I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses. And frequently they take the scriptures out of context—because they’re not really interested in what these passages are actually about. They have an ax to grind. They’re entirely sure they’re right, and God has taken their side. True of most political issues, but abortion especially.

Abortion politics in the United States.

The politics of abortion didn’t come up until the 20th century. That’s because before that time, doctors rarely did abortions. Technically it’s a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates of Kos had his apprentices recite, ὁμοίως οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω/omíos udé yinekí pessón fthórion dóso, “[I will] likewise never give a woman an abortion-causing IUD.” (Yep, they had IUDs way back then.) Hippocrates considered abortion to be murder. Ergo so did any physician who took his oath.

But sometimes you gotta perform an abortion. When the mother’s life is in danger, people usually figure it’s better the fetus die than she. So physicians pragmatically came up with relatively safe medical procedures to do so. (Relatively, folks. Despite what anyone claims, no procedure is risk-free. As any competent medico will tell you.) Once medical abortions came into existence, patients wanted that as an option: If they didn’t have a problem with abortion, and could find a doctor who likewise didn’t have a problem with abortion, why couldn’t they get one?

Well, because it was illegal. For reasons of morality and safety, many states had outlawed abortion. But this was overturned in Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled abortion was legal during the first three months of pregnancy. After that, the states got to decide how to proceed. Some most definitely have. Others left it largely, even entirely, to the discretion of their citizens.

In 1973 the Christian Right’s primary focus was on racial segregation. Back then, racism was mainstream conservatism: Conservative whites didn’t want nonwhites in their neighborhoods, their schools, nor anywhere they’d have to interact with them; their greatest fear was that whites might actually date and marry nonwhites, and their progeny (and America) wouldn’t be white anymore. The federal government had banned segregation in public schools, so conservatives created whites-only private schools and colleges. Obviously the feds wouldn’t grant financial aid to students at racist institutions, so this was a losing battle (one Bob Jones University kept fighting until 2000). Some conservative Christians rightly recognized this cause is evil, and wanted to change the direction of their movement. Ending abortion seemed a far more righteous cause: It’d save the lives of all those unborn babies!

Before the Christian Right adopted abortion as their primary foe, conservatives had no unified opinion on abortion. Historically, Christians held the view you’re not a living soul till the breath of life fills your lungs. Ge 2.7 Since unborn babies don’t breathe like that, do they even have souls yet? But over the centuries Roman Catholics adopted the view life begins before conception. Yes, before: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” said the LORD, Jr 1.5 NIV and Levi had somehow existed in his great-grandfather Abraham’s loins more than a century before he was born. He 7.9-10 Being anti-abortion was largely seen as “a Catholic thing”—and since a lot of American conservatives were anti-Catholic, they had another prejudice to hurdle first. That, and they had to rename their movement “prolife,” because being anti-something doesn’t sound so positive.

And they did clear that hurdle. By the 1980 election, the Christian Right had shoved their racists into the background, pushed good and hard on a prolife platform, and began the long process of trying to stack the Supreme Court with prolife justices. Not very wisely, which I’ve ranted about before. But now they have. And we’ll see what they ultimately do.

In any event the prolife movement is largely a Christian Right movement. It’s brought together politically conservative Evangelicals and politically conservative Catholics in a way nothing else has. Many of ’em actually recognize they’re sisters and brothers in Christ now. So that’s been great.

On the downside, in order to get prolife justices, conservative Christians have compromised all our other principles and elected people of terrible character. People with no compassion, people who worship wealth, people who believe any ridiculous conspiracy theory so long that it vilifies their political foes, and of course some of those same old racists. Worst of all, people who have no respect for democracy, and are perfectly happy to overthrow the government through fraud and violence. You know, fascists.

The old saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” may be pragmatic, but it’s hardly Christian. In permitting such people any sort of power, conservative Christians have done serious damage to their movement and our nation.

It’s what happens when you take a single issue—even a good issue!—claim Christ Jesus is absolutely on its side, and single-mindedly fight for that instead of Jesus. In other words, commit idolatry.

My own biases.

May as well confess where I myself am coming from. I’m not conservative. Not progressive either. I’m trying to follow Jesus, so I adopt whatever views I consider most compatible with his, regardless of which party claims them as their own. I know; being difficult to pigeonhole irritates many people. They want me to be consistent with the Republicans or Democrats—pick a side already!—because they can’t fathom choosing any other side. But I did. I choose Jesus.

Catholic theories aside, I seriously doubt life begins before conception. I’m more inclined to adopt a scientific explanation: I figure life starts when the brainwaves start. (After all, life ends when brainwaves stop.) And since fetuses develop brainwaves about 40 to 45 days after conception, that’s far too late for the crowd which insists life begins at conception… and far too early for the crowd which insists we can wait till birth. Or the second trimester.

I’m inclined to fall back on my conservative upbringing, and agree abortion is murder. Like Dr. Seuss put it, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Fetus is simply Latin for baby, and terminating a pregnancy means destroying a baby. A baby the mother didn’t plan for, doesn’t love, and may not be able to afford (and how much more sad does this make the situation?) but a baby all the same.

But I’m also inclined to fall back on my libertarian upbringing: The right solution is not a solution by force. It’s not to jail, fine, imprison, or execute people who have or cause an abortion.

Really, it’s for society to step up and help the mother. If an unexpected baby threatens to derail her life, we need to help her stay on the rails! Give her support. Give her paid maternity leave. Get her childcare. Get her food and diaper subsidies. Offer her college courses. Make it so every woman’s response to finding out she’s pregnant is, “I’m gonna get so much help. I’m gonna have so many options.” Never “Oh, I’m so screwed!”

It’s to fix our adoption laws. Prospective mothers don’t want to give up their babies for adoption, because they hate the idea of abandoning a kid for someone else to raise. We need to get rid that stigma. If you aren’t cut out to raise a kid, there should be no shame in admitting this—and letting someone eager to grow their family to step in. Likewise if mothers are afraid of surrendering all their parental rights, I don’t see why they and the courts can’t work something out with the adoptive parents.

Currently our society seldom even tries to make any such reforms. Many conservatives actually bash impoverished mothers for being a burden to our social services. And they wanna eliminate these services… thus creating the very environment which make women think of abortion as their only hope. Conservatives think lawlessness is the problem—and their own godless selfishness is the real problem.

Plus their own tunnel vision. Conservatives have been taught all their lives—and believed it!—that the problem with society is other people. Other sinners. Not their own apathy, lack of involvement, negativity, their rage at evil instead of their pursuit of goodness and grace. Their bad fruit—which their fellow Christianists tell them is righteousness, and disguise as best they can.

Progressive Christians are also part of the problem. To be fair, some of ’em do help. But far too many of ’em either push for abortion—“You’re not ready, so it’s the smartest choice”—or passive-aggressively feign a libertarian attitude—“Hey, whatever you decide; it’s your choice”—yet because they lift not a finger to help, this attitude really just nudges women into choosing abortion. Even if the women would much rather not!

Hey, if “pro-choice” people are truly pro-choice, why is it so many of them are bothered when women choose the harder path, and have the kids? Simple: It’s also pure selfishness.

Doesn’t matter your politics; human depravity ruins us either way.

Like I said, my politics irritate people: Seems I fall in both the prolife and pro-choice camps. I want people to choose life! But, y’know, choose.

According to most Christians I know, this means I have some screws loose: “You can’t be both!” But abortion is a complicated issue. Far more complicated than either conservatives or progressives make it out to be. And neither side is offering reasonable solutions. It’s like somebody barfed on the floor, and one group wants to cover it with newspaper, and the other wants to nuke the site from orbit.

Abortion is evil. It’s the kind of evil which is an all-too-typical condition of our messed-up world. It gets both sides to act out of character: Conservatives who would ordinarily fight oppressive government mandates tooth and nail… are totally fine with this mandate. And progressives turn into laissez-faire libertarians.

Conservatives defend their odd behavior by insisting they gotta make an exception: Abortion’s driving our nation to damnation! But they’ve zero biblical evidence for this view. Like I said, abortion’s not in the bible. And even if we claim it’s the same thing as infanticide: The United States doesn’t have a covenant with God same as the ancient Hebrews did. We have a pluralistic society, like the Roman Empire. Which is not, as St. Augustine had to remind the Romans in The City of God, the same thing as God’s kingdom. Not in the slightest.

Progressives may insist it’s nobody’s business. Thing is, God expects people—all people, whether they acknowledge him or not—to be just, and to help the needy. He’s gonna judge anybody who stands on the sidelines and pretends a crisis is just somebody else’s problem.

Like I’ve said, neither side is offering reasonable solutions. They’re just reacting in rage. As selfish humans do.

So let’s pray for wisdom. Then see what we can do—not to protest, but to help.