“Reverend, what happens to all the aborted babies when they die?”
“They go to hell. Just like their parents,” replied the Reverend without the slightest hint of hesitation or reservation in his voice.
On the last day of “Bible Class” in the eighth grade at my small, ultra-conservative, Christian school, my Reverend told us that we could ask him any question we wanted about Christianity and someone came up with this one.
Does the Reverend's answer shock you? Well, it shocked the whole class too. I don’t remember who asked the question or the answers to any of the other questions that were asked that day, but I do remember that how thick and tangible the silence was that followed. To this day his words still nauseate me. I get that same nauseous feeling every time I recall another instance from that same school in that same eighth-grade year, but this time in History class.
My headmaster was saying something about why we should learn history so that we can avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the past and how history has patterns and consequences. I remember only one sentence from the entire lecture: “…That’s why the children of single mothers are unsuccessful. They are condemned to pay for the sins of their mothers.”
Once those words left his lips all eyes were on me.
I was the only kid in the class without a father and ironically enough I turned out to be more “successful” than most people sitting in that room, which is largely because of the brave and selfless single mother, who made the choice to be my mom, and by doing so gave me a wonderful childhood and a promising future. I’m not even going to start on how sexist, elitist, or misogynistic his statement was, but I am going to point out the hypocrisy that is displayed here by these two pastors and by the pro-life movement at large.
A lot of enemies of the pro-life cause have started referring to it as "anti-choice" instead. Considering the stories of these two pastors, perhaps this is, in fact, a more accurate label. You cannot condemn a woman for getting an abortion if you are also going to look down your nose at the woman who chooses to be brave enough to raise a child on her own. You can be a Christian and be anti-sin, but you cannot be a Christian and also be anti-mercy, anti-grace, and anti-compassion.
And yes, by my logic and by the logic of most Bible-believing Christians, I do consider abortion to be a sin according to standards of morality based solely on the Bible-based Christian belief system and I think that there is significant evidence in the Bible to support this claim1.
But if abortion is a sin according to the Bible, isn’t it moral for Christians to oppose it? My simple answer to that question would be “yes”, but just because you disagree with someone else’s decision doesn’t mean that you should enforce your morals on others by means of law. Take the Amish for example. According to their interpretation of the Bible and its ethics, people who participate in modern, secular society, including those who belong to other Christian sects, are not living the way that God intended.
Even though the Amish do not participate in many parts of secular American society, they live according to their own set of morals without trying to enforce those upon everyone else. So maybe Amish women dress in a way that keeps a greater portion of their bodies covered, but you would never see them outside a Victoria’s Secret waving protest signs and telling the shoppers that they’re going to hell.
The Bible is ambiguous on many fronts and has left a lot up to interpretation, but one thing the Bible is abundantly clear on is that no one lives a perfect life and every human that has ever existed (except for Jesus) has broken God’s laws in some way, shape, or form.
Since humans are imperfect, human societies are also imperfect by default. We have set up laws to hold us accountable for our actions so that we can have peace and order within our societies despite the fact that we are flawed as individuals, but still, we have yet to create a perfect government or society. Although the laws of the United States and Christian morality do have a fair bit of overlap, one does not define the other, nor should they.
A country as large and diverse as the United States cannot accommodate the moral interpretations of every social, ethnic, or religious group under one set of laws. As a result, the purpose of laws in this country is more for functionality than for morality.
Therefore, as Christians, we can hold the position that an action, such as abortion, is immoral without fighting to make it illegal. Take the Ten Commandments for example; they are all God’s laws, but only a few of them are federal laws. Based on the laws of the United States only two of the Ten Commandments are illegal: murder and theft. Some argue that abortion falls under the category of murder, but according to the Bible so does hate.
1 John 3:15 says,
“Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (ESV).
According to this verse, all of the people screaming at and intimidating women outside of abortion clinics are just as guilty as the patients and the doctors themselves in the eyes of God. Aside from that, even with modern science and technology, there still is not consensus on when exactly human life begins.
If an immoral, but legal act such as hate can fall under the Biblical definition of murder, then the biblical definition of murder is not synonymous with the legal definition of murder. Therefore abortion could also qualify as an immoral act that should not necessarily be illegal even if one were to hold the belief that abortion is murder.
However, for the sake of argument let’s conduct a thought experiment where we imagine that abortion is illegal in the United States. I’m sure it would still go on, but under the table, through unsafe practices that could seriously harm or kill women. Some women would be forced to carry dying babies to term and others would die from unsafe pregnancies.
Now, let's imagine the children that would come into the world. Many of them would come into the world through circumstances similar to mine, but their lives and experiences would probably turn out to be vastly different than mine because of one major factor:
My mother chose to keep me, whereas theirs would have been forced.
They would likely begin their lives unloved and unwanted. There is a good chance they would not receive proper care or medical attention and could develop health issues or mental health issues down the line. As a result, most of them would have very difficult and possibly even miserable lives.
A world without abortions would be just as ugly, or possibly worse even, than the world we live in today. The same people who so adamantly oppose it would no longer be able to hide behind their computer screens and graphic posters. Instead, they would be seen for the hypocrites they truly are.
The Bible does tell us in Isaiah 1:17 to:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (NIV).
Many people use this verse and others like it to justify the pro-life movement, but they seem to be forgetting that the women who get abortions, many of whom are young, single, or poor, also qualify as “the oppressed”.
Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun, sums up the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement perfectly:
“I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is” (Chittister).
If Christians truly want to protect the unborn, perhaps they should focus on causes that could benefit both the children and their mothers long-term. Instead of lobbying politicians and organizing rallies and marches against abortion, they should spend their time, money, and energy on causes like providing free pre-natal care, free child care, basic necessities like diapers and breast pumps, parenting classes and support groups, job training, and education.
Statistics suggest that financial barriers could be a lead contributing factor in a woman’s choice to undergo an abortion. In 2014, 76% of abortion patients were low-income or below the poverty line (Guttmacher Institute). Maybe if these women were shown love and support instead of judgment condescension, more of them would choose to keep their babies. In addition, If more families stepped up to adopt and committed to providing good homes to children whose mothers did not want to keep them for reasons that are not financial, then more abortions could be prevented that way as well.
If Christians pursued these ways to reduce abortions instead of trying to make it illegal, many at-risk babies could be saved while improving the lives of women, and without alienating them from the church.
Perhaps our focus should be less on changing laws and more on changing hearts.