Abortion and conservative Christians.

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

Infanticide does. Strangling or smothering the babies after birth, Ex 1.16 or if you really wanna terrorize people, as the Egyptians did, toss ’em in the Nile. Ex 1.22 The scriptures don’t specifically condemn it as murder, but neither do they treat it as if it’s not murder. And most Americans agree… although not all humans have. In some cultures—partly justified by high infant mortality rates—infant death is kinda okay, and causing infant death is also kinda okay. It’s famously known in ancient Rome, if a patriarch didn’t want a baby, he could order it be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure. Although a 1988 archeological discovery in Askelon, Israel, revealed a number of Romans were okay with just drowning ’em in the local bathhouse.

Miscarriage also comes 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 KWL
22 When people fight, and one strikes a pregnant woman so her children come out:
If there’s no harm, still: Penalize, penalize.
Whatever the woman’s patriarch charges him, he must pay, as confirmed by judges.
23 If there’s harm, he must pay soul for soul,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, cut for cut, bruise for bruise.

So if the fetus came out dead, the guy who punched the mother could merit a soul-for-soul penalty. Unless her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law; whatever patriarch had the care of her—or judge 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

There are those who interpret this passage very differently. They presume verse 23 has nothing to do with verse 22; that it has to do with other acts of violence and their appropriate penalties. So killing a fetus didn’t merit anything more than a fine, but killing the woman—even if she’s a slave Ex 21.20 —merits the death penalty. Obviously they’re not reading this passage in context, and you can judge whether it’s because they really don’t like the context.

Otherwise, as 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 again, take the scriptures out of context. Hey, whatever supports their cause. It’s not about what God has to say on the issue; it’s about them being right, and insisting God must be on their side.

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/omoíos udé gynekí pessón fthórion dóso, “[I will] likewise never give a woman an abortion-causing IUD.” Hippocrates considered abortion to be murder; ergo so did doctors.

But because sometimes you gotta perform an abortion—for when the mother’s life is in danger, people generally figure better the fetus die than she—doctors pragmatically came up with relatively safe medical procedures to do so. (Relatively, ’cause despite what anyone claims, no procedure is risk-free. As any competent doctor 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, nationwide, during the first three months of pregnancy. After that, the states got to decide—and some have, and others left it largely, even entirely, to the discretion of their citizens.

In 1973 the Christian Right’s primary focus was on segregation: Thanks to centuries of racism, scriptures to the contrary, they didn’t want nonwhites in their schools, nor interracial dating. But the federal government wouldn’t grant financial aid to students who wanted to attend racist institutions. It was a losing battle; one Bob Jones University kept fighting until 2000. Some conservative Christians rightly recognized this cause was 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 and since unborn babies don’t breathe like that, do they even have souls yet? But over the centuries Roman Catholics had adopted the view life begins before conception. Yes, before. Because God knew babies before he formed them in the womb, Jr 1.5 and because 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 weird Catholic position, and because a lot of American conservatives were anti-Catholic, that was a big hurdle they had to clear first. That, and rename their movement “prolife,” because being anti-something doesn’t sound as good.

But they cleared that hurdle. By the 1980 election, the Christian Right had stifled a lot of the pro-segregation voices, pushed hard on the prolife platform, and began the long process of trying to fill the Supreme Court with prolife justices. Not very wisely, which I’ve ranted about before. I don’t think they’re gonna get the results they’re hoping for. But who knows?

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 those prolife justices, conservative Christians have compromised all our other principles and elected people of terrible character, people with no compassion, people who worship wealth, and some of those old segregationists who simply went into hiding. The old saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” may be pragmatic, but it’s hardly Christian—and in permitting these 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 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. Sometimes they think I’m libertarian; sometimes liberal; sometimes neither; they want me to pick a side already! Well I did: I picked Jesus.

I seriously doubt life begins before conception. I’m more inclined to adopt a scientific explanation, and figure it starts when the brainwaves start. (After all, life ends when the 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 also 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 that make the situation?) but a baby all the same.

But I’m also convinced the solution to the abortion problem is not to outlaw abortion.

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 gotta 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 rights to their kids, 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 such reforms. Many conservatives actually bash impoverished mothers for being a burden to our social services. And wanna cut these services… thus creating the very environment which make women think of abortion as the only reasonable option. They think lawlessness is the problem, but their own godless selfishness is the real problem.

Plus their own tunnel vision. They’ve been taught, and believed, for so long that the problem is other people. Not their own apathy, their lack of involvement, their 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 “choice” is really no choice at all. They encourage many women to choose abortion who’d much rather not. If they’re truly “pro-choice,” why does it seem like such a struggle for so many of ’em when women choose the harder path, and become unexpected mothers? Simple: It’s also 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. Which means, according to most Christians I know, I have some screws loose: That shouldn’t happen! But abortion is a far more complicated issue than either conservatives or progressives make it out to be. And neither are 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 demand oppressive government mandates, when they’d never do it on any other issue… and progressives turn into laissez-faire libertarians. Conservatives defend their odd behavior by insisting they gotta make an exception, for abortion’s driving our nation to damnation—but they’ve zero evidence of that from the bible. Progressives may insist it’s nobody’s business, but God’s gonna judge anybody who stands on the sidelines and pretends a crisis is just somebody else’s problem when everyone’s meant to help the needy. And like I’ve said, neither side is offering reasonable solutions; they’re just reacting in rage.

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