Following up on our conversation on separating the personal and the political in the abortion debate, the following is a guest post by a progressive Christian pastor who draws on the biblical tradition to show how restrictive abortion policies disproportionately affect women already in critical situations.
Rev. Eilidh Lowery
Early on in the scriptures we see the Hebrew people valuing life because life is important to God. God is the God of light and life, and people are made in the image of God, so the people are about life. This important value even makes the top ten list: thou shalt not kill. Of course, pretty much immediately the Hebrew people go slaughter a bunch of their enemies, but God only meant the chosen people’s life, right?
The Hebrew people were so keen on protecting life that they traced life back to it’s earliest point in order to make sure no one was dishonoring God. In early metaphysics it was pretty clear to everyone that women were just empty vessels waiting for the male seed to fill them so that they could bear children. This meant that sperm were sacred on their own as a harbinger of life itself. Poor Onan discovers in Genesis 38 that those who spill seed on the ground end up dead as their punishment for wasting life and disobeying God. I learned in seminary that all sorts of things from anal and oral sex to masturbation were taboo simply because of this notion of sperm as life. In fact some rabbis told people that they were murdering generations of children every time their seed spilt.
This is where we get the theologies that prohibit birth control. We can even draw a line from this world view to the notion that homosexuality is immoral. Lucky for us, we live in a world where we understand that sperm is only half the genetic ingredients needed to make a baby and so these sex taboos are slowly changing.
So now we get to babies. Some people who are about life think that once the sperm have done their job of finding the egg that life has begun. But others ask when is a baby a baby? Is it at conception or when the heart beats or when the brain awakens or when the baby would live outside the womb? This is where the abortion debate rages. We may have moved beyond the ancient metaphysics, but we’re not clear on our own.
The heated debate on abortion is influenced by the things we know, like that the reality of advanced medical diagnosis means that some folks know months ahead of time that their child will die shortly after birth. We know about rape and incest and the failures of contraception. The cycle of poverty and unwanted pregnancy is well documented.
At the heart of all of this, for people of faith, is a dual reality:
- Folks who are trying to be faithful to their understanding of God’s love of life cannot bear the idea of ending the life of a child.
- Others who are trying to be faithful to their understanding of God’s love of life cannot bear the idea of forcing someone to have a child.
How can that be? How can the answer to valuing life be abortion?
Back to Empty Vessels?
Abortion is about justice. It’s about allowing women to make the important, personal decision about becoming a parent, or giving up a child for adoption, or having an abortion. As restrictions and new laws are put into place the ability to make a powerful, life changing choice is being taken away from the person who bears the most responsibility and consequences for the outcome of the decision.
Women are being reduced once again to an empty vessel that must put the life that might be ahead of her life and the other lives in her family. Women are fertile for about 35 years, which means a woman who wants two children will spend about 30 years of her life trying to prevent unintended pregnancy. Having 3 children instead of 2, having a child at the wrong time, having a child with the wrong person, all of this affects life from generation to generation.
The women who are most affected by the abortion debate are the women who we as Christians seek to care for the most. The bible again and again commands we care for the poor, the orphan, the widow. We honor God and life by seeking justice and equity for those that society marginalizes. Restrictions on health care have the greatest impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and survivors of domestic abuse. Studies show that a woman who seeks an abortion, but is denied, is significantly more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who is able to get an abortion.
All the factors–not just one
People who want to end abortion are motivated from a place of deep concern for our world and for the sanctity of life. People who want to protect abortion rights are motivated from a place of deep concern for our wold and for the sanctity of life. I’m proud to be part of an organization that works for all women to care for their reproductive health. NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon supports all women along every step of her reproductive journey from contraception to prenatal and postnatal care as well as abortion
This is from the NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon equity statement and captures why, as a progressive Christian, it is important to me to speak and to listen on this matter:
“The concept of reproductive justice was originally introduced in 1994 by Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and later developed by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Forward Together defines reproductive justice as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls. It will be achieved when every person has the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for themselves, their families, and their communities in all areas of their lives.
Reproductive justice isn’t just about the legal right to choose. It is about all of those factors that shape and impact choice—factors like race, socio-economic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Reproductive justice examines how those factors intersect with one another and affect a person’s experience accessing the full range of reproductive options. It addresses the reality that access to care looks different depending on what you look like, where you live, where you were born, where and whether you work.”
Decisions about parenthood and adoption and the end of pregnancy should be between a woman and her doctor. Those who have a theological message can speak that message and offer their opinions, because we live in a country that allows us to speak freely.
I hope you will join me in advocating for reproductive justice and ensuring that no woman is ever reduced to being less than a full person ever again. May we be about the life of all people.
Rev. Eilidh Lowery is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She serves a new church start and a traditional congregation in Portland, Oregon. She serves her community in many ways, including as a member of the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. She has an awesome collection of high heels.