The Ethics of Abortion
For more than three decades, Americans have been deeply polarized over the issue of abortion. While the debate on abortion involves secularists as well as people of every religious tradition, the issue has become particularly acute among Christians because of strong views on both sides. Generally, the debate has been cast in terms of “pro-life” views and “pro-choice” views, but it is clearly a much more complex issue for Christians.
The legality of abortion was confirmed in 1973 when the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that prohibited abortion procedures, no matter how medically urgent they might be. This decision, commonly referred to as Roe v. Wade [410 U.S. 113 (1973)], is the most important legal milestone in the debate. In its decision, the Court acknowledged that it cannot rule as to when life begins, since even those in medicine, theology, and philosophy have no consensus on this matter.
Christian pro-life advocates insist that all human life is sacred and that human life begins at the moment of conception. From the point of view of pro-life Christians, America’s aborted fetuses are unborn babies who are killed through the process. As Pope John Paul II put it, “The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves.” The most vocal opposition to abortion has come from the Roman Catholic Church and from evangelical Christians, including activist groups such as Operation Rescue. The presumption is that there should be no abortion at all, a general principle to which some liberal pro-life advocates might carve out a series of exceptions, such as in the case of rape, incest, known deformity, or grave danger to the life of the mother.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (formerly, the Religious Coalition for Abortion...