A Christian Pro-Life Position

I don’t typically like to take on politically loaded or controversial “culture war” topics. The reason I avoid these subjects is because, as a psychologist, I know that the psychology of moral conviction tends to be operative. Please read my review of this literature here and here. The point is: When the psychology of conviction is in play charitable conversation goes down the toilet and little is accomplished. I have hopes that this won’t happen to this post.

But then again, I could be a fool for thinking so.

If you haven’t noticed it is a campaign year. And political campaigns always get me thinking about my stance on various issues. A volatile one is the abortion debate. I’d like to take a minute to offer some thoughts on this topic.

All else being equal, I’m pro-life. However, I rarely stand strongly for pro-life platforms because I don’t feel that all things generally are equal. The issue for me is not a simple binary choice: Pro-life versus pro-choice. Abortion is a complicated social phenomena where many sociological and moral pressures are in play. And until the church faces up to the complexity of those cross-pressures as well as confronting how it is contributing to the problem, I'll remain ambivalent about being pro-life.

First, a preliminary point about something that makes me ambivalent which has nothing to do with abortion. Christians should always be hesitant to legislate morality. Legislation is just a euphemism for holding gun to someone’s head. To legislate is to make something a law and laws are enforced via police power. And police carry guns.

The point is, Christians seek moral change via example and persuasion. True, as a Christian I’d vote against violent crimes and robbery. But I’d vote for that as a non-Christian as well. Thus, as a general rule of discernment Christians should be wary, very wary, of deploying political power as Christians.

With that general observation aside, let me get to the heart of my concerns being both a Christian and pro-life.

First of all, let’s say we do pass legislation outlawing abortion. For me to be comfortable with this outcome I’d demand that the Christian community have the following things in place:

#1: Full-blown Sex Education with a Liberal Distribution of Condoms Among Adolescents

If the Christian community demands that all unborn children be born by the rule of law then Christians have to make the prevention of pregnancy MORE IMPORTANT than the reduction of sexual activity. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t enforce pro-life legislation and only deploy half-measures on pregnancy prevention. Abstinence training is not enough. This leads to #2.

#2 The Reduction of Sexual Stigma in Christian Communities

One of the pressures to choose an abortion is the painful stigma the Christian community places on the loss of virginity. The shame is enormous. If you want to prevent abortion then the Christian community has to reduce the stigma. Kids who get pregnant have to be loved and embraced in a way that would dazzle the world. They have to be prized and supported and, this is key, in the public view. Otherwise, kids and their families will seek to hide their shame via abortion.

Again, this pits two tensions against each other within the church: The desire to reduce sexual activity versus pro-life agendas. I think if you want to be pro-life you have to choose. You can’t do both. You can’t demand for these pregnancies to be brought to term while systematically shaming the young girls and their parents during their pregnancy. To do so would be immoral and unchristian.

#3 Economic Support
The number one predictor of poverty in American is being a single female head-of-household. Thus, to demand that all pregnancies be brought to term means that the country must provide for the well-being and future of both the children and their mothers. To refuse to do so would consign millions to poverty, twisting the fates and souls of all those children forced to enter an inhospitable world. This will cost lots of money. Which means Christians will vote, from a moral duty, for higher taxes. A Christian pro-life agenda demands it.

#4 Christian Adoption
Many of these children born into the world due to the pro-life policies will be put up for adoption. If this is the world Christians want they must demonstrate that they are willing to adopt these children at many times the rate of the national average. Again, to demand for these children to enter the world and then refuse them the family we know they need would be immoral. Every Christian voting for pro-life must adopt a child. You can't say you love these children and then close your own home to them. You vote, you adopt.

To summarize. All things being equal, I’m pro-life. But here is what I need to see to feel that a pro-life vote is fully moral and Christian:

1. The Christian community leading the way in pregnancy-prevention, dropping the exclusive focus on abstinence and fully on board with making condoms widely accessible.
2. The reduction of sexual stigma in the church.
3. Economic supports that provide quality health-care, nutrition, and educational opportunities for both the mothers and the children.
4. Every pro-life Christian vote = One Christian adoption.

Until those things are in place I feel very queasy about being pro-life. As a simplistic platform it does not take prevention seriously, it stigmatizes young girls, and, worst of all, forces children to be born into an inhospitable world, a world created by Christians.

Let the debate begin.

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13 thoughts on “A Christian Pro-Life Position”

  1. Hi Richard,
    You'll get no debate from me. You are right on every point. I would only add (let the merde hit the fan) that those who vote pro-life should also be against war. Why value a fetus and yet send a young adult out to die. Be pro-life for a person's total life.
    Rick T.

  2. Rick,
    I think you are right and it follows the impulse to the post: To expose some of the inconsistency, simplicity (as in simplistic), and hypocrisy of many "Christian" political stances.

  3. Richard,

    Much is at work in your post. But I'll make a sweeping, if obvious, generalization: none of what you propose would be needed if we were more loving and wise as a society. In short, the question is not "what's right or wrong with abortion?" Rather, "why do we not know how to love the least of these?"


    George C.

  4. George,
    I agree. I think my thoughts on this were stirred by watching the movie Juno. The father in the movie was an amazing example of love which, in my analysis of the movie, gave Juno the courage to have the baby. The whole movie showed how one of the biggest crises and shaming moments in the American family--a teenage pregnancy--doesn't have to be a crisis or a shaming moment. It made me think: What if the church can get to THAT place?

  5. I'd add this:

    5. Legislation should be more strict, and more strictly enforced, on fathers helping out.

    To me it seems problematic to force women to bear the child while fathers can get away without providing much support.

  6. I like this. It's a viewpoint that is not just anti-abortion, but actually pro-life. Beautifully consistent and even a touch compassionate.

    It's a pity politicians are neither.

  7. Another couple of additions:

    First, because laws essentially put a gun to someone's head, they should protect universally recognized human rights rather than anyone's moral compulsions. So murder is outlawed not because killing is morally wrong, but because the victim has a right to life that the government is obligated to protect. This is actually a page from libertarian dogma, and one of the things I think they're mostly right about.

    Second, a person claiming to be pro-life should truly be pro-life and not merely anti-abortion. This would, for example, require accompanying votes against war and capital punishment.

    This is why I really think that the left wing of the Democratic party has a more genuine pro-life position. It's anti-war, anti-capital punishment, and if you like, you can claim that Roe v. Wade was right without also claiming that abortion is good.

  8. Glad to see someone else who thinks that pro-life needs to be far more a consistent position than it currently is. The point is that it is not pro-life at all, but pro-certain-kind-of-life and virtually ignores other kinds of lives.

    It ignores the social matrices that support the need or desire for an abortion in the first place and you note a few of those well. It also ignores the issue of those who have been born already which you also noted. It is also a position that demonizes the child-bearer in this situation which is not constructive at best.

    In short this issue has been co-opted by political rhetoric as a lightning rod and for the sake of being black and white on issues to gain votes, it has dumbed down the profound issues that it ought to raise about life in general as it should if it is to have any true framing according to the pronouncements of Christ about life and its relationship to love of neighbor.

    So I think that pro-life is an example of political hypocrisy legitimated by so-called conservativism that seeks sweeping legislation where politically convenient without any thought as to the probable outcomes of the position. This is simply dishonest and irrational behavior.

    Just as an FYI, I did post this I think before I began reading your blog here and here.

  9. I am pro-choice myself. But, I love your post! I'm not sure about everyone that votes being willing to adopt. That sounds like an outrageous demand Jesus would make ;-)

    You do make some excellent points though. If people are going to take a pro-life stance, they need to be willing to help women with the situations that encourage abortion in the first place and you've done an excellent job of summarizing those.

    Just one more thing. Even if we didn't pass pro-life (anti-abortion/choice) legislation, Christians could still do all these things and surely reduce the number of abortions.

  10. Great piece, couldn't agree more.

    I've always thought that if prolifers spent as much time mentoring young men and women as they do holding up posters with grotesque post-abortion pictures in front of Planned Parenthood... well then we probably wouldn't even need an abortion debate.

    but as with many things, Christians usually choose to address the symptoms, but rarely the root cause.

  11. Let me know if for some reason you're interested - I wrote a big convoluted paper on the ethics of abortion from a Christian perspective that lays out a somewhat similar position, but I've got a lot more caveats crammed in there.

    I think its incredibly hypocritical to value an embryo if it is headed to an abortion clinic, but not if it is disposed of by an IVF clinic. I don't see a big conservative outcry against IVF. Are those embryos somehow different? Also, to value a fetus but not a full-grown Iraqi civilian who becomes 'collateral damage' in our war on terror. As you grow up, do you lose value?

    Part of why this "debate" seems so intractable is that so many on both sides seem completely unreasonable and inconsistent. I really don't see much resolution possible until a lot more effort goes into clarifying what we're even talking about. If its the value of human life, then we're doing a terrible job of upholding that. If its the value of human agency and flourishing, then we're doing a terrible job of upholding that. Either way, what we're doing now as a culture is a failure on all counts as far as I can tell.

    I should respond specifically to your post I guess :) - I just don't think that making abortion illegal is the best way to prevent it. The hard news is that preventing it is all about doing the things you list as requirements. If we do things like that, we'll have a lot fewer abortions, regardless of what the law says. All things being equal, its always a painful decision that people don't make lightly, so given better/more moral atlernatives, I don't think most people will have abortions.

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