God is Pro-Choice

The other day, I saw a bumper sticker that proudly proclaimed “God is Prolife”. This struck me as an odd thing to say, if my assumptions are correct. If this person is contrasting Pro-life with Pro-choice, (a fictional dichotomy invented by abortion opponents), then the claim is that their god is not in favor of choice. This seems rather odd, to me, given my knowledge of mainline Christian theology. Assuming theirs is the god of Abraham, the claim that he is “Prolife”, or “against things (or just people) being killed” is also spurious, but that isn’t something I’m going to address today.

Let us clearly do away with the idea that God is against choice. Or, to put it more bluntly, if we were hand crafted, then we were clearly meant to have free will. We were meant to choose our own actions in life, and if there is such a thing as sin, we are expected to do it. We are expected to make mistakes from time to time. And, we were meant to be forgiven for them.

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

-Romans 3: 23-24
New International Version

This is a Bible passage, much loved by evangelicals. It is used to tell people that they are bad, and need Jesus to save them from themselves. I’m sure that many of my American readers have been asked this rapid series of questions, at some point:

“Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen? Have you ever lusted after someone? Well, then you are a lying, thieving, adulterer!”

The inherent unworthiness of people (or, at least other people in some cases) is a major theme in mainstream Christianity. All have sinned, at some point, and are unworthy of God’s love.

I disagree with that for so many reasons. I believe in a creator who loves creation, and us as a part of that. I believe that we are as children, learning to accept our limitations and live up to our potential. I believe that we are loved, as children, no matter how we have erred. I believe that the second part of the scripture is more important than the first: if it says that all have sinned, it also says that all are redeemed by Gods grace.

I will address a bigger problem I have with this scripture, and how it seems to fail to guide the social action of most Christians later this week, but today, I want to talk about how it guides my faith. Numerous times in the Bible, we are told that God is Love, and that God’s love is like that of a parent. In fact, the Hebrew tells us that God’s love is both masculine and feminine in different places, as it relates to different situations; sometimes stern, sometimes comforting. (God’s creative womb is mentioned in Job 38:29, and giving birth in Deut. 32:18, if your translator was honest.)

If we are children to the creator, and if, as children, we have been given the right to go into creation and learn through experience and observation, then it does not hold with reason that we could ever be punished eternally for our temporal crimes. We each have the ability to change our lives, live up to our inherent worth and dignity, and become people of value. We have the power to redeem ourselves, at least in part, and it only follows that there is, then, no way in which we can damn ourselves completely.

I believe that the creator has revealed enough of the plan to us, in many forms, through many tongues and equations, that we are starting to piece it together. The world is more complex than we can truly grasp, though we can put together broad guidelines that make logical sense to our simple minds. As so many facts can only be grasped by pure logic, there are those which only emotion can truly hold. The Universe was filled with wondrous things, and things that require love or hope to fathom. There are things that frighten us to our core without our knowing why. I don’t think that we’ve learned The Truth. We will have to earn that.

Life, all life, has been a search for truth and meaning. There is meaning there, waiting to be discerned. If we work out how to live and grow together as a species and a planet, then maybe we can put all the different parts of Truth together and figure out what it is. But we don’t do ourselves any favors by pretending that God is hiding it from us. We have free will, and the right to make choices. We have the responsibility to learn how to use it. We have to exercise it. We each have, not just the ability, but a responsibility to learn from our mistakes and better ourselves, but also to figure out our place in the world and how we can live our lives to the fullest.

That means that we will all make mistakes, because there is not one right answer for every person in every situation. We can choose to come back from those mistakes, and do better “this time”, each and every time. We are valuable simply for trying to be our best and truly learning from mistakes. And when our choices lead us away from our best, we will be forgiven.

14 Responses

  1. God’s pro-choice because he created us free creatures capable of making choices, and while the world’s indeed complex, the choice of aborting a pregancy or continuting to child birth a clear, if hard for some, choice. Whether a human life in all its stages from conception through death equally worthy of preservation is the question. Many UUs avoid the question I fear. We don’t need God for answers on this either.

    • Honestly, I didn’t think I’d read this from you, Bill, given your “conservative” reputation. I am glad that you see the value of ALL life, and believe that it is worth preserving. I’ve never read your stated opinion on Nationalizing healthcare, but I can see now, logically, that you are a supporter.

      I agree completely that life is sacred, and that we should do everything we can to encourage women to choose to carry children to term. Everything, except making it illegal to have a doctor terminate it.

      In part, this is because there will always be women who choose, for reasons as varied as the theologies of UUs, to seek an abortion, and we should not condemn them to sterilization or death for that choice. Making abortions illegal won’t stop abortions. It will only make getting a safe abortion harder.

      What we could do, as you imply (possibly by accident) is raise the quality of life for those women. We could educate them better about birth control. We could educate society to not look down on a single mother or a woman who is working or trying to get her education while pregnant. We could make adoption less stigmatic. We could offer health care, because more women die in labor than from legal abortions, and a birth in a hospital is expensive.

      This wasn’t actually the point of my post, but I suppose I should have seen that anti-choice rhetoric would have to follow a title like that. As an adopted person and father of 2 kids myself, I always discourage abortion when anyone asks. But I never stop loving someone who just can’t figure out how to make room in their lives for a child.

      I have other very strong feelings on this, but until men can carry a child to term, there is no honest way for a man to be an uninvited part of the decision making. Choose your partner carefully, and work to make it easier for women to choose life, because to take the choice away from a woamn is inhumane.

      • The stuff on education and limiting abortions strikes me as well-intentioned but none the less chaff in the debate. My presumed conservative views on war and death penalty equally chaff to the moral question of abortion.

        You believe a mother’s autonomy and right to control what’s done to her body trumps the life of the unborn child she carry’s. That’s what I glean from your response. If I understand you correctly, does the mothers autonomy continue from conception through birth? A malpractice claim involving death of a fetus couldn’t be filed because the unborn child not on the same level of a born person?

        Life begins at conception and ends with death, and whether that life deserves the same protections from State and Society a fundamental question.

        I believe a God would judge our answers. I don’t need a God to tell me what to do, but if there is one, I fully expect judgement on my response to abortion.

        I believe the medical/legal communities that deal daily with life and the end-of-life deserve guidenance.

        • The “stuff” on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy cannot be separated from the discussion, because people cannot be expected to make any choice without the appropriate information. If someone does not know how to prevent pregnancy and what the possibilities are, then they cannot be justly held responsible for their actions. To talk about limiting access to abortion without also committing to a better education of children on their bodies and their responsibilities is just sick and unjustly punitive.

          I do believe that the needs of a fully formed and actualized person outweigh those of a cell mass with potential. Millions of fertilized zygotes pass harmlessly through uteri every year without leaving any kind of mark, and millions more fail to develop to the point of viability despite the mother’s efforts to be as hospitable as possible. Even in the US, the infant mortality rate is over 5%. Here in the US, all 50 states extend that even farther, allowing parents of children who have been born and taken home to leave the infant somewhere safe with no legal repercussions for choosing not to care for it further. The parents have a right to their own life. The fetus is not a person, and the mother is.

          Culturally and legally, this is a recognized fact throughout history and around the world. No one gets a star chart, a certificate, or an inheritance based on their conception date. Even The Torah says that an accident that results in a miscarriage should be handled in the same way as one that results in the woman breaking a bone or suffering a cut; the fetus is not treated as a person (Exodus 21:22-25 ). Malpractice could still be brought, as the mother still may have received improper care, but miscarriages happen despite the best available medical care. The fetus is not a person, but a parasite, dependent on the mother and at her mercy.

          The fetus may be “alive” in the most basic sense, but it is not a person at least until such a time as it can live outside the womb. Until science advances to the point where we can remove the unwanted mass intact and host it somewhere else, the mother has no choice but to decide the ultimate life or death when she chooses whether or not to host the fetus until it is viable.

          As was the point of my post, God will judge, and all will be forgiven. It is sad that we cannot do likewise and allow women to chose the course of their own life. A child changes everything. I know from experience. I cannot tell anyone that they must give up their life for another. I will try to counsel them, and I will do what I can to support them in choosing to carry the child, and to educate children so that they don’t have to make that choice, but I cannot see the moral high ground in forcing them to give up their lives.

          As for the medical community needing my guidance, I think that the years of schooling are in place to insure that they are capable of considering options that I have no reason to understand. We are a specialized society, and I think that we need food safety and quality education for the living much more than we need medical oversight for the needs of those who are still only theoretical.

  2. I understand that some religions it is believed that if an abortion takes place the soul will simply move on to another fetus.

    • Re: The fetus is not a person, but a parasite, dependent on the mother and at her mercy. The fetus may be “alive” in the most basic sense, but it is not a person at least until such a time as it can live outside the womb.

      Wisconsin trying a fetal abduction double homicide case http://www.myfoxchicago.com/story/19556150/wisconsin-fetal-abduction-murder-trial-to-begin. We had a simiilar fetal abuduction / murder in Chicago last week. I don’t remember the detail as I avoid reading these news items.

      Based on your guidence above, the humicide charges in the deaths of the fetuses are not correct? Injust perhapes, as these fetuses are alive only in a basic sense but not persons who could be victims of murder?

      The fetal abduction cases may seem exceptional, however malpractice isn’t. The Medical Community needs some sense of it’s liability in harm to a fetus and whether that fetus is basically alice, or a person with a future that can be legitmately costed out actuarially for settlement a huge issue.

      Your criteria above practically results in no murder charge, and probably trivial malpractice settlements.

      I suspect, a jury of our peers, without recorse to God, or complicated Theology, would out of human solidarity side with the fetus as human life at its dawn, worthy of protection, and deserving of compensation if harmed.

      • A full-term fetus IS, generally and barring congenital defect, capable of living outside the womb. That’s what “Full-term” means. That does change the conversation, though I am not convinced that it changes the actual bottom line. Still, how many life sentences does a person need to serve?

        As for malpractice, I already said that the loss of a wanted fetus IS an issue for the parents, and thus could be grounds for malpractice. Plenty of cases are based on an assumed value, which is all we have in the case of a fetus. There is no way to prove that the child would have been alive at birth, that it would have been healthy, or that it would have reached the age of a single year. This is, in essence, the same as not knowing if a person who lost a limb would live a full life or would have needed that limb to earn the living that got them, ultimately, to retirement. The malpractice is still adjudicated based on the presumption of value.

        As for your conjecture about juries; many have been asked to look at the value of the fetus, and the results have been mixed and almost always situational. I agree that they have value, as does all life, but not that they should be forced on a woman who feels that the burden would ruin her own life. You want to save them all? Advance science such that we can adopt the fetus pre-birth and free the biological mother from the responsibility.

        it comes down, to me, to a question of least harm and oppression. Allowing the woman to chose means a better quality of life for those who are alive, as opposed to gambling on the potential of the fetus. It is not something I would choose, and a deal breaker in my romantic relationships if my partner would choose differently. It is not something I can logically see being legislated out of the hands of doctors and patients.

  3. I just find the viability criteria thin. I pass by a Vencor Hospital every day. A hospital for people dependent on Ventilators. They depend on machines but still worthy of protection IMO. The distinction between a person and human is not relevant to me either. They just strike me as synonyms. A person at conception is a person at the earliest stage of life.

    Abortion seems to me a clash of rights. The right of the mother to control her body clashing with the right of child to develop, grow, and be born. Right now, the only reason to abort that child’s development (and kill it) would be in the case of rape, incest, or health of the mother. The State or Society can’t force a person to die for another’s behalf (although at work –it’s a hospital– we work through case studies of Mothers chosing just that). As for rape and incest, well, I’d say the mother’s mental health over rides, of course if she choses abortion. Some wouldn’t, and its their decision.

    Abortion as birth-control I would not favor. Do abort a child simply because it’s unwanted, seems indefensible to me. I would say the Child’s right to be born and live trumps the mothers right to control her body.

    Much work needs to be done here though by UUs I think. Consider the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s request for comment on three-parent families: the genetic engineering of embryos using a donors DNA to patch parts of the parents. How many UUs worried about gentically altered food, would be fine with genetically altered people? Right now, I’d say yes to both, but technology is driving things into every more complicated realms. UU’s need to think this through more deeply because the engineers are upond us.

    • “Birth” has been the line for millennia. Science has allowed us to move that point back farther and farther. Now, we can debate the status of the fetus only because science has defined “human” on a cellular level. Even then, we don’t investigate (or even know of) every miscarriage. That is because the fetus sometimes just doesn’t make it. It isn’t viable enough to survive IN the womb. “Viability” seems a perfectly reasonable point to start the conversation from, rather than trying to move it back to “implantation” or even “conception” all at once.

      If you are allowing for mental health as an issue, then why are you trying to define what is healthy for another person? If the woman and her doctor decide that the pregnancy is going to be a problem, then why do you feel you can interject yourself into that discussion? Why not focus your efforts on making it less stressful and tramatic for her to carry that child? Why not provide her with options to continue her life while giving that fetus a chance at life, too? Why not make the focus of abortion reduction on helping women make the choice you favor, rather than simply trying to tell them they have screwed up and can’t have their life back?

      • re: If you are allowing for mental health as an issue, then why are you trying to define what is healthy for another person?

        No, not at all. I’m saying the exception for abotion to protect the health of a Monther should include her Mental Health. I don’t decide the health or risk, nor should the state.

        re: If the woman and her doctor decide that the pregnancy is going to be a problem, then why do you feel you can interject yourself into that discussion?

        The State / Law has a powerful obligation to protect the rights and interests of powerless and helpless people. I include people at all stages of their lives: from conception to death.

        Re: Why not focus your efforts on making it less stressful and tramatic for her to carry that child?

        I would but I don’t think that focus allows abortion as birth control. That’s allowing a person to terminate the life of another in the name of easing their own stress or trama. If the trama enough to put the mothers health/life at risk, I might. Certainly not for stress though.

        re: Why not provide her with options to continue her life while giving that fetus a chance at life, too?

        I like to think I do. A huge reason why I was appalled Illinois construed its Civil Unions law to mean Catholic Charities could only continue do business in Illinois if it stopped discriminating agains same sex couples. The affront to same sex couples trumped the interests of parentless kids. That was the wrong tradeoff IMO.

        re: Why not make the focus of abortion reduction on helping women make the choice you favor, rather than simply trying to tell them they have screwed up and can’t have their life back?

        No problem with helping, but our screw ups are our own, and the State / Law should not stand back and let us resolve our screw ups at the cost of another’s life. Even if that life requires our bodies or care to survive.

        Re: “Birth” has been the line for millennia.

        See Cardinal Justin F. Rigali and Bishop William E. Lori response to Speaker Pelosi,

        “In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion. ”

        “In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (No. 2271) ”

        I’m no historian of this, but I suspect Rigali and Lori have their history right. Not to be confused with ensoulment either.

        • We disagree on what qualities of mental health are important, then. Long term stress is a serious health risk. Additionally, more women die each year in child birth than from legal abortions. I also believe that life is more than just breathing, and I cannot rightly give or take the right to determine the quality of life for another person. Again, the mother is a while person; the fetus is not.

          I am disturbed that you are calling on the Catholics as a moral compass. The early church was both for and against almost every issue. Some sects were against marriage and conception, so certainly some were against abortion, too.

          Again, Exodus 21:22-25 says that causing an accidental a miscarriage is to be punished according to the wishes of the would-be father, leaving it up to the parents to determine if the could-have-been child was valuable. The view of the Greek Septuagint translation of this text was that the fetus might be a person, depending on the viability (or literally, the “form”) of the fetus, as to whether it still counted as a miscarriage. The Church in Palestine held the majority view that, until separation at birth, the child and mother were one being, making the child a parasite that, if it threatened the mother’s life, actually required removal.

          {source http://books.google.com/books?id=VBN6r3cC6v0C&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=early+christianity+and+abortion&source=web&ots=Ew-3l3eEYS&sig=JWPvHb7VXPN37YXN4GeiVL2iKNI#v=onepage&q&f=false}

          So, again, the tradition that the fetus is not a child is ancient, if not universal. The law has almost always favored the idea that the fetus is not a whole person (again, birth determines status). We can continue to debate that, but precedent is on my side. The only issue still open, in my mind then, is whether a woman is a whole person who ought to be allowed to make choices about her own body, or if society, or some other authority, should impose the child on her. That seems like a pretty easy thing to decide.

          I am against abortion-as-birth-control. Prohibition is not the way to bring about change. It has never been good policy in the US, and it was killing women and children before Roe. We need a change to the culture, and nothing else will truly prevent the needless loss of life, both human and fetal.

          • I’m calling on Catholics as Historians to contest your assertion on “birth” as a standard for Millineia. I find Humanism offers the compass (…and read Nat Hentoff as he’s better Humanist navigator than I.) The Humanist logic simple here: a person is a human, and a fetus is a person at the dawn of human development. A humanistic government protects human life (or persons if you prefer) and every stage of our development and decline; and never more so then when were are helpless and unable to protect ourselves. Science tells me to include embryo and fetus with the Children in HHH’s mantra, “It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped,” The Church doesn’t tell me that.

            • Let’s get historical, then:
              St. Jerome (circa 340 – 420) wrote in a letter to Aglasia:

              “The seed gradually takes shape in the uterus, and it [abortion] does not count as killing until the individual elements have acquired their external appearance and their limbs”

              Pope Innocent III (circa 1161-1216) wrote a letter which ruled on a case of a Carthusian monk who had arranged for his female lover to obtain an abortion. The Pope decided that the monk was not guilty of homicide if the fetus was not “animated.” Then, early in the 13th century, he stated that the soul enters the body of the fetus at the time of “quickening” – when the woman first feels movement of the fetus. After “ensoulment”, abortion was equated with murder; before that time, it was a less serious sin, because it terminated only potential human life, not human life.

              Pope Gregory XIV (1535-1591) revoked the “bull” that threatened women with excommunication for having an abortion shortly after his promotion in 1591. He reinstated the “quickening” test, which he determined happened 116 days (about 17 weeks) into pregnancy.

              Now, the science:

              There is a huge difference in a person who requires care, which can be provided by anyone, and is often a paid position, and a parasitic lump that cannot be separated from a specific individual whose health it threatens. Anyone can care for a newborn. Science cannot crack the code to allow anyone but the host mother to care for a fetus. That is a very important point in the debate that so-called Pro-life people almost never address. A tumor is also a lump of human tissue that is genetically differentiated from its host; there is no confusion that this is not reason enough to grant it legal status.

              The fetus is an inseparable part of the woman’s body, no more able to take off and live than her appendix. Until it becomes a viable individual, there is a clear case for giving the woman the choice to treat it as she wishes.

              I do not begrudge the right of the fetus to life, liberty, and property. I simply maintain that it does not have any more right to reside within another person without that person’s consent than you or I. If it cannot be evicted alive, then that is not the fault of the woman who simply wants her body and her life back.

              Until we can promise that woman that she will suffer no penalty; medical, social, or economic, for carrying that fetus, we can not presume the power to impose the rights of a fetus on a real human being. As the only way to make that assurance stick is to remove the child harmlessly and gestate it elsewhere, we may never be able to give an absolute assurance. We can tempt the woman to respect the life within her, but we cannot force her to suffer for an unwanted fetus.

              • I emailed the my Catholic scholar on the history stuff. As for this, …we can not presume the power to impose the rights of a fetus on a real human being. I ask by what power do you discriminate a fetus as less than fully human? A human different from you or I only because of its stage of development, or ability to sustain itself without the nurture of its mother. Many UUs once preached “Fewer But Better babies” when we were so taken with Eugenics in the 20s and 30s. We dropped that kind of discrimination in later years, and I’m glad we did. (Our spport for Abortion the last vestige of that History I think.) I don’t want to make the choice as to who is more worthy or not. Once concieved, I think the State and Gov has an obligation to protect. An obligation only trumped by the risk to the mother. I just don’t find it in me to take the power of judging whether a fetus is more or less a human or person depending on any conditions. Therefore, I find we share all the rights endowed by our constitution. I think that’s our difference.

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