I am increasingly coming to believe that we are at a very pivotal point in our culture in which a revisit of the Roe vs. Wade decision is long overdue. I am not alone in my general convictions on this issue, of course, but I do think there if there is an opportunity to drive the culture back to the stage of looking at abortion for what it is, it needs to happen now! Race, gender, and orientation (and a whole host of other issues) have all been major topics in the news media lately and the nightly exposes and reports on socio-political events throughout the country have forced questions of human rights to the center of the American judicial and civil stages. For the pro-life advocate, the killing of the unborn is the quintessential human rights issue facing us today and this means that it needs to be cast in that light: a human rights issue. Pure and simple. But how do we not let this particular opportunity to re-center the question escape us?
Despite the re-emerging cultural apathy to this question, there are several things we can do. I want to outline two initial steps and then really focus on a third because it will seem to some to be the most controversial.
First, people of all levels need to be educated on this issue. Philosophically and scientifically, pro-life advocates must have more than opinion and conviction on their side. We need better education on this issue so that when people speak as a pro-lifer, words become backed by evidence and not merely opinion. Both science and philosophy demonstrate the veracity of the pro-life claim and it is absolutely critical that we equip ourselves with this knowledge.
Second, despite the murmurings of some that society should be immune from looking at images of abortion and its aftermath, we must open ourselves up to seeing abortion, not just talking about it. As broken and sinful humans, we tend to talk in the abstract whenever we want to preserve a “functional” system. The pro-abortion camp insists that looking at images and videos documenting abortion is a harassment or emotional pleading. This could not be farther from the truth. It is existential and moral pleading and it is part of what we have done with every social justice issue throughout history. Every social injustice needs to be surrounded with images: as hard as it may be to see, we need to see images of domestic abuse, child labor, human trafficking, slavery, massacre, and so forth. Abstract words can never resonate the truth within us in the way that images and testimonies can. Use discretion, of course, but do not be afraid of showing the world the face of injustice.
Third, I believe that the pro-life movement must be set free from conservative Christianity. For many readers, this is a bold suggestion, but stick with me. I have been a part of this conversation for quite some time and on various levels, but almost always the first objection I need to break down is the one that suggests the pro-life position is a religious position. This, of course, is always an interesting response to me because unless I have been talking with Christians, I make a pretty explicit point about not bringing in religion. No quotation of Psalm 22.10-11 or 139.13,15. No appeal to creation. No Imago Dei. No divine ethics. No talk of a “soul”—nothing that can be connected exclusively with the realm of religion.
Now, making mention of those things aren’t bad and, most certainly, this is a conversation the church needs to engage in internally. Too many denominations have jumped in bed with the cultural opinion on abortion. But any in-depth study of the historic church position, from ancient Judaism up until today, establishes the Christian ethic against abortion (see Michael Gorman’s excellent book Abortion and the Early Church or Richard Hays’ chapter in The Moral Vision of the New Testament). We need to vigorously address this issue within the internal life of the Christian community from biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical grounds.
But in reference to the wider cultural conversation, we have to recognize the fact that we live in a post-Christian culture. And this culture will never be convinced of morals that appear to be exclusively religious based ones. The pro-life movement needs to be a movement that transcends religious boundaries. As long as the general public (and especially those that are actively pro-choice) can close this issue behind the gates of religious conviction, this issue will go relatively nowhere and the pro-life campaign will continue to be seen as a “value” proposition and not an objective truth. And the more we reinforce it with appeals to religion, the more counter-productive our message will be in the face of a post-Christian culture.
The assumption to link the pro-life movement with political and religious conservativism, of course, is not without reason. The appeal to link personhood with divine significance and ethics with divine morality is natural. And I am personally convinced that secular ethics of whatever kind are always philosophically self-defeating. But there are many in the world that could be our allies in this issue that would disagree with me on that. So be it! I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially when the water involves babies! Last I checked, most atheists are just as against slavery and human trafficking as my fellow Christians are. I don’t see a need to try and convince them otherwise because of where they base their morality. We can work together, irrespective of our own convictions on religion.
Despite the impression that the pro-life position is a religious value, we must work to mainstream the pro-life stance by talking about it in mainstream language. This does not mean, as I pointed out earlier, that God doesn’t fit into the picture at all…He does. And it does not mean that this isn’t also an issue for the Church…it is. It simply means that for the sake of engaging and reforming social conscious, and for the equipping of all people to make decisions that save the lives of the most vulnerable of our society, we must break free the pro-life position from where it currently stands. We must be willing to link arms, support, and encourage the pro-life position from whatever particular vantage point another person sits.
A couple years ago I interviewed a group called Secular Pro-Life. One of the things that the group noted to me was how many people at an American Atheist rally came up and thanked them for representing a non-religious approach to this issue. I thanked them too. For my part, I am glad to stand beside Secular Pro-Life in their initiative just as much as I would be glad to stand alongside my Muslim friends, my Buddhist friends, my agnostic friends, my feminist friends, my “progressive” friends, and so forth. The sooner we can release it from the boundaries of explicit Christian bias the sooner a community of diversity can bring this issue to the forefront of a non-Christian culture and ask questions about how we can reform it.