Three Views on Abortion

Recent changes on the US political scene promise to heat up even more the battle over abortion. On one side, we have the "Pro-Life" camp, whose position seems to be based on the thesis that every human embryo from the first moment of conception is, in fact, a human being, even a human "person", endowed with an immortal "soul" and that as such, with the basic human rights that must be given to all. For this group, any deliberate termination of fetal life at any stage of its development is the equivalent of "murder". The main problem with this view is that it is based on an ancient philosophical view that is often read into the Bible, but without any clear biblical evidence, much less any conclusive scientific data, to support it. It also poses some very difficult theological problems like how explain the fact that a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of conceived embryos naturally abort?

        On the other side, we have the "Pro-Choice" view, which, if it pays any attention to the embryonic life at all, sees it as something less than human, at least up to the point of "viability' now reckoned to begin at about 22-23 weeks. This seems to have been the reasoning behind the controversial 1973 Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court decision, which affirmed the right of a woman to choose to abort during the first six months, but allows a state to ban late-term abortions, except when a woman's life is endangered during the final "trimester" of pregnancy. But the major problem with this position is, given the embryo's distinct genetic makeup from the very beginning, and the whole dynamic of its development, just where do you draw the line between its potential and actual humanity? After all, in some parts of the world, this lack of a clear boundary between what is potential and actual has resulted in outright infanticide!

        All this suggests that resolution of the issue can only come on a higher plane or a much more inclusive view of life. One might suggest, for example, that from an evolutionary standpoint, all  life, not just human life, must be seen as an on-going process, and that any interference with this process, from conception to birth just as much as from birth to death, is an interference with the natural pattern of life, whether seen as planned by God and/or embodied in the unfolding of creation.

        But this broader view also has its problems: for example, what is it that makes human life so superior that we may so easily do to other forms of life what we would think criminal if done to humans? Is this simply because we humans have emerged at the top of the evolutionary process or is it because God has ordained us to rule over the rest of creation?

        Or again, if human life is so special, then must we not also condemn anything that threatens the integrity of this process, from conception to natural death including all social or economic systems that deny people the chance to live their full human potential, as well as all direct acts of life-taking, including capital punishment, euthanasia, and assisted suicide? It seems that a really consistent  ethic of life may be more demanding than many "Pro-Life" advocates are bargaining for!

        At the heart of the whole problem is the gift of self we call "love". If becoming fully human is a process that begins long before birth and takes a whole lifetime to complete, then a major measure of our own humanity is our ability to respect and nourish this process at every stage of life,

R W Kropf  2/5/2001                                            File:Abortion.doc  01-02-05.html