On this, the 42nd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's infamous decision to legalize abortion based upon the individual's right to privacy, I feel that I must point out an inherent difficulty associated with being pro-life. It goes beyond the normal sound bites and leaves political punditry in its dust. This difficulty consists in the fact that it is a relatively simple matter to oppose abortion. Even many advocates for its legality take offense to being characterized as pro-abortion. It is the choice they hold dear, not the procedure. Consequently, the harder thing, that is the thing harder than wringing our hands at the murder of unborn children, is using those same hands to truly embrace all the diverse manifestations, ages, and stages of human life.
For example, opposing abortion is a logical conclusion if one believes as I do that life begins at conception. There are practical, moral, and theological reasons for such a conclusion. However the fact that in the 21st century some embryos are conceived in a laboratory and then frozen indefinitely presents an interesting challenge to this paradigm; all those human lives sitting in a freezer of perpetual limbo. In addition there is now this question of exactly when life ends, or perhaps when life should end. Could one truly be called pro-life if at some point he refused to administer or receive treatment for a terminal injury or illness, even if the goal was to curtail suffering?
See what I mean? It gets complicated quickly...and that's just the tip of the iceberg. And here’s where hypothetically speaking a pro-choice activist might protest that the Christian faith, in particular my Christian faith, is the realm of simpletons ill-equipped to deal with the complex realities of society, science, technology, and life in the 21st century. I am pretty simple, but obviously I disagree.
David Van Drunen is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California and he’s written a book called Bioethics and the Christian Life. David Van Drunen is no simpleton. It’s a great book but probably not for your summer beach-reading list. Anyway, Van Drunen argues that the Christian faith nurtures particular virtues, namely faith, hope, love, courage, contentment, and wisdom, which do in fact enable Christians to formulate a worldview capable of addressing stickier questions related to scientifically tinkering with life and death.*
Faith, perhaps obviously or maybe not obviously enough, is central to the Christian worldview but it is not unique to Christians. Everyone has faith in something or someone. For some the central object of faith may be science on which they rely to inform their decisions. It could be that oneself is the primary target of one’s own faith. Thus that individual’s confidence is in him or herself. This is not to say that in either of these examples the individual is totally irreligious or an atheist. Both cases only point out that the primary consideration is something other than that of the biblical (as opposed to cultural) Christian worldview. The biblical Christian worldview asserts that Jesus Christ is the primary object of faith upon which the individual must rely in order to attain reconciliation with God. This is important when thinking about matters of life and death because the Christian believes that without such faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
That means, as Van Drunen points out, every other virtue has its origins in faith.** Hope, or the confident expectation that better things lie ahead, comes from faith in God’s plan. Love is what is required for an individual to put the interests of another ahead of his or her own interests. Courage is what it takes to perform such selfless acts, the outcome of which is often uncertain humanly speaking. Contentment would be the ability to accept one’s circumstances as God’s design for his or her life. Wisdom speaks to the appropriate application of knowledge. Finally, while wisdom may occasionally dictate its necessity, privacy is conspicuously absent from the list. And that’s the rub.
At its core all of this is really a matter of worldview. Being pro-life, truly pro-life from a Christian perspective, requires me to admit that neither my body nor my life is truly my own, so the whole "my body, my choice" mantra doesn't carry a lot of weight. I belong to God. I belong to my wife. I belong to my two kids. I belong to my church. I belong to my extended family, my community, and so on. That being the case I certainly do not advocate invading peoples’ privacy, but there are clearly much larger issues at stake and definitely larger offenses present. If privacy was the foremost human virtue then being truly pro-life would be easy because there would be no life to care about other than my own! Life would be closer to the Hunger Games than anything else. As it turns out privacy is not a virtue at all; it's merely isolation. While it’s more difficult than we normally imagine to be truly pro-life in every instance it is a worthy goal. Rather than further isolating us it is a choice that draws us into closer and more authentic community with fellow humans. Few if any of us will truly get it right at every opportunity, but I am quite confident that on this day in 1973 the Supreme Court got it dreadfully wrong.
* David Van Drunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009. p. 70. **Ibid., p. 71-74.