I am pro-life. Let me start with that so there’s no misconstrual of what I’m going to post here. When I was an unChristian, I had no problem with abortion. When I realized that I was a Christian Psalm 139 in particular caused me to reconsider:
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day. Psalm 139:13-16 (The Message)
Older translations say that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God in our mothers’ wombs. Certainly that “fearfully and wonderfully made” fetus is a precious life. But . . .
I’ve known women and girls who have had abortions. Pro-life folks often caricature these women. But none in my experience celebrated their abortions or saw them as expressions of their feminist identity. Most of them grieved, at least on some level, at what they saw as their least-worst option in the reality of their lives.
I have never been sure that laws are the solution to the tragedy of abortion. I’m not sure if throwing women and/or doctors in jail is the merciful and just way to proceed. I’m not sure if that is what Jesus would do.
What I am sure about is that laws against the abortion of fetuses carried by rape victims cannot be merciful and just. And that brings me to the comments of Indiana Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock.
In a debate on October 23, Mourdock was asked about abortion in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape. This is how he responded:
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Immediately, Mr. Mourdock was pilloried for seeming to say that a rape resulting in pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen.” How can he say, people asked, that God intended for a woman to be raped? Even fellow Republicans, including the Republican presidential candidate, disavowed what Mr. Mourdock said.
In interpreting the words of another person, we Lutherans are guided by Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment. In his Small Catechism paragraph on the meaning of the “Do not bear false witness” commandment, Luther writes that the commandment calls us to put the best possible construction on the words of another.
The best possible construction of what Mr. Mourdock said is that he inartfully expressed a basic Biblical truth. As he has tried to explain in subsequent statements, he did not mean to say that any rape is “God’s will.” Like all evil, rape is not God’s intention, although acts of human sinfulness can be redeemed by God.
Mourdock’s point apparently (hopefully) was that all human life is a gift from God, even human life that is rooted in an act of despicable violence. Therefore, by Mr. Mourdock’s reasoning, abortion even in the case of rape should be illegal.
I disagree. What is theologically true – that life is a gift of God – does not always make fair, just, and merciful law. Do we really want to make abortion, as tragic as it is, against the law for women who are raped? Do we want to hold the loaded gun of the law, threatening prison or whatever, to a women’s head who has already been violently violated?
Do we really want to say to a woman in that desperate position, “You deliver that baby or we’re going to throw you in jail!”
That is not a power I want my government to have.
“But what about the baby,” pro-lifers who agree with Mr. Mourdock will protest. “What about the woman,” others will answer.
We live in a world that is fallen and filled with sinners (us). That means that sometimes – perhaps often – there will be no “good” alternative, only the “least worst” of unfortunate possibilities. Pretending that there is always a “right” either/or way to proceed in every situation ignores the reality in which we live. It ignores the reality of the fallen world described in the Bible.
Certainly, when a woman is pregnant as a result of a rape Christians can lovingly, counsel, support and encourage her to deliver the child.* But we must never coerce.
Here’s the thing – this support can only take place in a real way in the context of a pre-existing relationship. This doesn’t begin with the post-rape situation. What we are really talking about is an evangelism, not a legal, issue. Not changing minds through the hammer of the law or through our own efforts, but change of hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Too often we Christians give women who are considering abortion – and women and men in general – the impression that God, and by extension we, only love them if they “do the right thing.”
With his reputation for unfortunate statements, I am surprised to be quoting Dan Quayle to conclude this post. But here I go . . . once he was asked, in light of his pro-life stance, what he would do if one of his daughters became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. He said that he would counsel her not to, but if she decided to go ahead he would support her decision and “hold her hand.”
I’m even more surprised to be agreeing with Dan Quayle. But that sounds like pretty sound – and Christ-like – advice.
*Christians who are able can make themselves available to adopt such children. Christians can also be more open-minded about who can adopt children, but that’s a topic for another post.