No moral issue has been as divisive within the United States in the past 50 years as the question of legalized abortion. Before 1960, abortion (the practice of terminating a pregnancy by taking the life of the developing fetus) was almost universally condemned here and abroad. Today, the tables have turned, and most believe the practice, while not ideal, should be legal.
Should Christians view legalized abortion through the grid of personal liberty, or is legalized abortion an example of the state and society turning a blind eye to the victimization of the weak?
As I see it, the question with abortion is whether one class of living humans (fetuses) can be denied legal protection because they make life difficult for the rest of us. This is a question of human rights.
The biological facts about fetal development have been well-documented for decades now. Before the mother is likely to realize she's pregnant, the unborn child's heart is already beating. The average abortion in the United States takes place about 8 weeks into the child's life.
Development of the Human Embryo:
Genetic identity: Day 1
Nervous system: Day 20
Regular heartbeat: Day 24
Trunk, arms, legs present: Day 28
Brain waves detectable: Day 42
All organs functioning: Day 56
Average American abortion: Day 64
The fetus is biologically human (not a chicken or a bunny). The fetus is living (it is not dead tissue). The fetus is unique (its unique genetic code is different from either its mother or father).
In a Congressional hearing in the 1980s, 22 experts were asked when human life begins--11supported legal abortion, 11 opposed it. One expert said life began at "implantation" (when the fertilized egg implants in the womb a week after conception). The other 23 all said life began at conception. Abortion is killing a living human. This is fact. It is becoming more common today to define pregnancy as starting at implantation. That's an issue of semantics, however. Life--unique human life--begins at conception.
The philosophical point my pro-choice friends make at this point is to argue that, while the fetus is a unique living human being, it is not yet a legal person and therefore has no rights. I wonder who decides which human beings are persons and which ones are non-persons.
Jesus teaches me to consider them all persons. All humans are my neighbor. None is expendable. Not one.
The Bible shares this vision of the value of unborn life. Jesus began his human life when he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit" in Mary's womb (Mt. 1:20). The unborn child is from conception a human person (Psalm 139:13-16; 22:1; Isaiah 7:14). And as a human life, the fetus is an image-bearer of God, therefore worthy of protection. (Genesis 9:6--for God, killing an image-bearer is itself worthy of capital punishment.) Unless absolutely necessary to protect another human life, the Bible never permits the innocent to be killed. The Sixth commandment applies equally to all people: "You shall not commit murder."
Some will object to giving the unborn legal protection, saying "You can't legislate morality." I try to respect people when they say things like this--they're probably just repeating what somebody else said to them. But it's a terribly naive line of argumentation. Every law on the books is legilating someone's morality. I wear my seatbelt. Why? Because the state makes me. Why? Because it's wrong to kill--even to kill oneself. Assault is illegal in most places, too. Why? Because assault is wrong, and whenever immoral actions have victims, it's the governments job to legislate morality. Government doesn't protect the innocent by the power of suggestion.
But whose morality? Yours? Mine? No. If we decide our own eh\thical guidelines, we'll always put ourselves on top and others beneath us. It's human nature to define reality in a way that maximizes our own power at the expense opf others. We need something more fundamental, something dyed into the very fabric of creation. We need our Creator's morality. Only God has the right to tell other people what to do--He made us and knows how we were meant to love and live and relate to one another. God is not merely Lord of heaven, but also earth--and we want to see his loving will done here as in heaven. Sometimes loving is hard, and sometimes unpopular. But he gives us his power to be his salt and light, preserving and revealing truth in the world that rejects Him.
I was not raised a Christian. But I find in Jesus of Nazareth a countercultural ethic, a message that is more liberal than liberalism and more radical that anything I hear elsewhere. I see in Jesus a God who dies for his enemies. I don't see that anywhere else. I see a God who saves the world through the loss of power. As Tim Keller says, I see that the way up is down, that the way to power is through weakness. I see that as I believe this Jesus more and more, that he gives me an identity, value, and significance rooted in his grace. Therefore, I don't need power, wealth or a high standard of living to have a fulfilling life. Losing these things does not diminish me. I don't need to be right or have "my people" in office.
But I do feel compelled to love the weak. The more I understand the gospel and build my identity of the finished work of Christ on my behalf, the more free I am to speak up for the poor, the lonely, the mistreated, and the unborn. The more I look to Jesus, the more I find myself becoming a pro-life liberal in a culture that pits liberalism and the sanctity of life against one another.