My Flawed Views on Abortion

chalkboardI was ordained four years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Several months following my United Methodist-approved call to “preach the good news,” I sat in a sparse room with a woman who had been assaulted. It was just the two of us. I do not recall her words. I do not recall my responses. I do not recall what I prayed.

The silence I remember.

The knowing that I knew nothing, I remember.

Gazing through the decades, I am fairly confident we never talked about abortions. And yet abortion may have been one of the grim topics she would be forced to consider. How could she heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually? How often would the police question her and make her relive the terror? Among her family and friends, who should she tell or not tell about the horror? The questions—the what ifs, the why mes, the now whats—must have been awful for her.

Does any abortion ever occur in a good circumstance?

I suspect the vast majority of reasonable people in today’s America, forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, want abortions to be a rare occurrence. We want all women to be safe from violent attacks. Regardless of when you think “life” begins, we want every child to be whole and healthy. We want men to respect women in all circumstances. We want teens to use restraint in their earliest intimate encounters. We want . . .

What does God want?

I don’t know.

You don’t either.

Faith, after all, is not about knowing.

We read sacred scripture, those ancient words passed along from Jew to Jew, from Christian to Christian, from Muslim to Muslim, and we will interpret them based on our influences and experiences. Our scriptures, and the magnificent (and also peculiar) traditions that each major world religion practices, were—for the most part—created long ago by men in a particular era.

NO! . . . some would shout about their own specific scripture and traditions. The written beliefs we revere, and all of the traditions that guide and inform us, are from God . . . not man. If you believe God (or whatever name you give to the Holy) literally inspired every word, and if you believe your specific version of faith is the singular way to honor and serve God, then there’s nothing anyone could suggest that will change those beliefs.

Nonetheless, I invite everyone to consider those men—and so often only men—who wrote the various sacred scriptures. They crafted those verses when most women were considered the property of men. If for that historic reason alone, I am reluctant to view any sacred scripture as literal or infallible.

All I believe I can claim, thanks be to Jesus, is to try to love God (or whatever name you give to the Holy) and to love my neighbor as myself.

We now face, thanks to the great state of Alabama’s recent law (and other states’ similar actions), more anguish. Did the Alabama legislature go too far, or not far enough? Are you right about your views on abortion? Just for you? Or are you right for everyone, in every situation? Are you pro-choice or pro-life, or do you hold one of the many complex positions in between?

It’s not just abortion that divides us. What about other heart-rending issues that blatantly deal with life and death? What are your views on:

  • Death penalty
  • Gun violence
  • Assisted suicide*

Should I assume, if you want abortions to be severely restricted (if not eliminated entirely), you also would hope that owning any gun should be several restricted (if not eliminated entirely)?

[Oh, excuse me . . . you don’t think gun violence and abortion are comparable? Or the death penalty with assisted suicide? After all, you—with your well-researched views, humble opinions, and litany of scriptural verses—can show how different they are! But what if someone else, just as nice and rational as you, has contradictory data, insights, and interpretations?]

The truth I learned in my forty plus years of ministry is that every human is a slurry mix of beliefs, values, and opinions. We support the death penalty (kill the evil criminal), but don’t want abortion to be safe and legal (don’t kill the defenseless babies). We are against assisted suicide until we are caring for our beautiful spouse who now has a horrific illness. We cherry pick the Bible to prove our points or to disprove your points. Some read the same scripture and say humans are born sinful while others proclaim that every child is innocent. We claim to know what the Founders meant when they created the U.S. Constitution, but conveniently downplay that those 18th century slave-owning men (again, all men) decided certain persons were only 3/5 of a human, women couldn’t vote, and anyone serving in the Senate (since the common male voter was deemed undependable) should be determined by each state’s legislature. Look up your American history. Some of it ain’t pretty.

I don’t trust any nation’s constitution (even our wondrous U.S. Constitution) to help with certain decisions.

I don’t trust sacred scripture (even our wondrous Bible) to help with certain decisions.

There have always been abortions. Always.

There will always be abortions. Always.

No law will eliminate them, but laws can help make them safe.

My prayer is to let abortion be safe, infrequent, and available equally to all women of all colors of all financial circumstances in all zip codes. I pray that each believer loves their neighbor enough to know that their neighbor may believe differently than them. I long for us to create laws as a nation that will allow people of different beliefs and no belief to make the most excruciating decisions of their lives without additional guilt, shame, and legal hurdles.

There were other women, and other men, I sat beside since that time a few months after my ordination and a few years after Roe v. Wade. Some of them chose not to have an abortion. Some chose to have an abortion. All of my flawed, beautiful “neighbors” were hurting and scared, making individual and private choices that would be imperfect and might haunt them for all their lives and yet might also bring some form of healing to their lives.

Does any abortion ever occur in a good circumstance?

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*I used “assisted suicide” because it seemed one of the more negative descriptions. I could’ve said euthanasia, medical aid in dying, physician-assisted suicide, or death with dignity. Whatever words are used, it is a divisive life-and-death topic.

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2 Comments

  1. To much of a hot button issue to be solved publicly. I’m sure that my pro-life leanings would be harshly tested by the circumstances of a woman I know who decided to have an abortion. Interesting to see the clash between Justice Thomas and Justice Ginsburg yesterday…

    1. Thanks for your comments, Ken.

      And I will gently, and partly, disagree. Abortion will have to be publicly “solved.” While I can’t imagine any path that will lead to laws that “please” people on both sides of the issue, I continue to hope we can work toward greater agreement. How can those efforts not be done in a public way?

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