As I started this post it had recently been revealed that the U.S. Supreme Court was reversing the Roe v. Wade decision, creating more energy to the already divisive moral rifts in our country. Abortion is one of many issues I wanted to speak to within this page of the Galilean because it seems to be one of those fundamental issues where there is a true right and wrong position.
Though this narrative is my opinion, I will to the best of my ability present an objective portrayal of the possible worldviews of the different sides and how we can arrive to a conclusion, perhaps philosophically if nothing else, of why if God exists, abortion is truly wrong.
To endeavor into the topic of abortion one must establish some definition of terms. Now I don’t suppose to be the objective standard of how these lanes are defined, but I’ll try to do my best. The term abortion, as I can best define it, would be the intentional killing of an unborn fetus, at any gestation period. Oxford Languages defines it as “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.” Right away it is worth noting how the term “human pregnancy” is used absent of human being, or even fetus for that matter? Regardless how you view the terminology, these definitions are void of any motivations as to why a person would consider an abortion, and I think that is important for now.
The point of a stab at definitions is for us to be honest about what abortion is first, before we get into the motivations as to why some people may think it justified to carry out. Now if you don’t like the word(s) I used such as ‘intentional killing’, you are free to substitute words or phrases as you see fit, such as intentional homicide, or premeditated homicide, or intentional manslaughter, etc. But please, let us not be so foolish and naive to believe this act is unintentional, accidental, or suicidal.
I used the term fetus because it has been debated for quite some time as to what constitutes personhood, or when that can really be established. I’m not sure I can be of any help here either because once fertilization occurs and a human being begins the process of becoming, who are any of us to debate when that process constitutes personhood? If our worldview holds us to be as subjective as this, for example when a heartbeat occurs, when a brain is being formed, when all the fingers and toes are established, when feelings are established, what would our worldview look like for end-of-life care and the topic of euthanasia? If nothing else but for the ease of this narrative, I’m going to decide that personhood begins at the point of fertilization (which itself is going to be hard to pin down, perhaps more generally, conception), because I’m not equipped to know where else personhood might begin. Some of us have known unsavory humans throughout history who were arguably less than human themselves, and they were far along the road to adulthood (with a variety of cognitive faculties) when this became known.
So with a few lanes defined here we can hopefully move forward. Granted I’m not expecting consensus with these definitions (when do we find consensus on anything?) but we have to have a starting point for this narrative and it seems like the most unobjectionable for me.
If we take these definitions seriously what we have here is an intended process to end human life. Philosophically speaking, intending to end human life may not be wrong in and of itself. As the old saying goes, sometimes the ends justify the means. If a person were to refer to the “Justice” post on this website, from a consequentialist point of view a human may be completely justified in taking the life of another, especially if the process physically sustains life for one or a multitude of people. A popular example is the use of force in self-defense situations to protect family, strangers, kids, etc. A Christian will grant Christ did something similar in that Christ’s death on the cross saved scores of millions of people from eternal life without Him.
What makes abortion so wrong in many eyes is the larger process of life, specifically birth, nurturing, growth, etc, isn’t even allowed to unfold. And these same people would argue on some pretty firm footing who are we to terminate a child who can in no way defend itself? Has this child been accused of a crime? Don’t we grant due process in our country to even the most heinous and despicable human beings? Don’t we even use millions of dollars, court time, effort, and logistics annually to work on pardoning people from death row who actually have been convicted of violent crimes? What about all the protections we put in place to protect children in the United States from exploitation, abuse, etc…Doesn’t it seem odd we wouldn’t afford the same grace for life with an unborn child? I suppose pro-life supporters would say you can’t stand on both sides of the fence on this one.
Many pro-life advocates would also say abortion is wrong on any level, that is to say, there is nothing so important in the realm of moral dilemmas which would justify the act of abortion. Judicially speaking, what makes the issue even more delicate and troublesome is that in many states when a pregnant woman is murdered and her unborn baby also dies, the accused could be held liable for the murder of two persons, not just the pregnant mother (please refer to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, 2004). So the consent of the mother seems to be a fundamental and deciding factor in the apparent rightness and wrongness of the act. From what I understand, the supporters of abortion feel the woman owns an implicit right to choose for herself. While I don’t want to spend any great effort on unpacking the notion of rights, I think it important to at least open up the discussion before we go any further.
Where do rights really come from? From a government, a civilization, an ideology, or from a supernatural objective reality, such as a God? A right would appear to be something which can’t be taken away or surrendered, at least that is how inalienable rights are understood in the United States Declaration of Independence. The three listed in that document are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Please note there is no right to privacy in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
The document also states these rights are endowed by “their Creator.” While poetic and possessing some truth perhaps as far as the genesis of rights, we know life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in fact surrendered through the choices we make with our libertarian freedoms. For example, people who commit crimes of the state forfeit their liberty in many cases, and in more serious cases their life, such as capital punishment convictions, which would obviously terminate their pursuit of happiness as well. In regards to the pursuit of happiness, just imagine if people truly pursued everything in life that made them happy with no boundaries whatsoever being put on their explorations? You probably get the idea by now, but what happens when different pursuits of happiness converge, perhaps similar to what we are seeing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Clearly both sides aren’t right in this conflict are they, along with exercising true inalienable rights?
This notion of true rights then, at least how it’s delivered in our country’s Declaration of Independence (despite their best intentions), can prove to be a little ambiguous. So what sort of moral ground, like a right, would a woman have to decide whether she can abort her baby? I think the answer is actually pretty simple depending on the worldview you hold. There are really just two worldviews colliding here. One worldview sees God as the moral lawgiver of the world, whose greatest creation and value in the world is the human life, not human choice, while the other worldview sees the individual person as the moral lawgiver of their world, with the power to decide which rights they wish to believe in and protect; and not having the burden to hold themselves accountable to anybody but themselves. Now in the first worldview, with God as the judge and arbiter of humanity, abortion would clearly be wrong and an abomination to God’s greatest gift (at least in how the Christian understands God’s greatest gift); the gift of life. In the second worldview it would be hard to argue the rightness and wrongness of an action when God is not in the picture. You see, what has happened in the second worldview is our objective moral standard has been extinguished and now rightness and wrongness, good and bad, rest in the realm of public opinion, and who would be the arbiter to say which side is right? If a woman is to take the latter worldview, she would be living consistent to her worldview, but of course that opens up a nexus of difficult philosophical consequences.
Let’s look at a few. If rights are purely a human idea, void of God, who decides what is and isn’t a right? In the example above of Russia invading Ukraine, if Vladimir Putin feels it’s in the best interest of the Russian people (their flourishing and prosperity as a civilization) to invade Ukraine by force and take back land their country used to inhabit and own, why doesn’t he have a right to do that? Isn’t he exercising a so-called inalienable right for his and his people’s pursuit of happiness (my body my choice)? Who’s to say he’s out of bounds?
When somebody says they have a right (my body my choice) to not receive a shot in the arm to a vaccine they may not trust or don’t feel is necessary for their survival, who are we to cast stones?
When somebody says they have a right (my body my choice) to receive a shot in the arm because they feel they are vulnerable to a disease, who are we to prohibit them?
When a terminally ill person, or the friends and family of a terminally ill person, asks for medical help to assist in easing the pain and eventually causing the death of their loved one (their body their choice), who are we to stop them?
When a family member or friend contemplates suicide because of issues in their life which are crushing them (their body their choice), who are we to convince them that is the wrong decision?
What these examples have in common is in a worldview void of God they are neither truly right or wrong (despite us using these qualifying terms), they are morally neutral (perhaps even without ultimate merit or meaning?) and the proponent and objector would be simply consistently living their worldview. Yet the troubling and curious aspect of all these scenarios is we do line up on one side of all of them, and we do in fact call one side right and the other side wrong. And because we do that the implication remains there is a true standard, a gatekeeper, of what constitutes right and wrong. This is just one of the many reasons why God exists and why God’s law rules the day, and why an agnostic or atheistic worldview philosophically crumbles on morality. When you take the intellectual, emotional, and yes, theological leap to call something right or wrong, you imply there is a standard beyond yourself which makes it so. Otherwise all this effort of debate and noise is just human opinion and anything goes. It would be a bit like arguing which flavor of ice cream is the best. That is the tragic logical terminus of a worldview void of God. It’s nihilism, and proponents of nihilism have an awfully short lifespan. Why is this? It’s because in a worldview of nihilism, there is no ultimate hope, no ultimate meaning, and many who try to “live” consistently with this worldview decide for themselves suicide is the only answer.
So does a woman have a right to do with her body as she wants? Well yes, under an atheistic, polytheistic, or even agnostic worldview, she could justify (the framework of justice here would be a little foggy) that she does, but she would be very hard pressed to say much else about anybody else’s individual rights wouldn’t she? If rights are purely idiosyncratic, you don’t have much moral standing to admonish anybody else on anything, since it’s their body their choice. Imagine the consequences of such a worldview?
But does a woman or a man truly have the right (we’re not talking about creaturely freedom here like a choice) to do whatever they want with their body if God exists? No, at least not understood by many theistic followers. God, as understood by Christians and other theists, is believed to be the standard of moral agency and thus has clear moral commands and expectations of God’s human creatures which provide boundaries to which all of us are demanded (yet not constrained) to live within. Now we can and do break any moral obligations and duties laid on us by exercising free will, and we think through a myriad of reasons to justify our actions. In fact we are experts at excuses aren’t we? And we have done the same thing with abortion, justifying our actions by saying things like the baby wasn’t going to make it, the mom wasn’t going to make it, the mother was giving birth to a child from a rape scenario, the world is overpopulated, the mother couldn’t afford to give the child a good home, the baby would have been addicted to drugs, the mother wasn’t ready to be a mother, etc…And we justify it (or just spin it) by saying it’s a right, not a choice.
It seems we’ve clearly shown if we have a right to do anything with our bodies we have no moral grounds to say what isn’t within the rights of anybody else. And we haven’t even spoken about the rights (realized, potential, or otherwise) of the baby have we, or the father?
So are there any reasons which would justify a woman to have an abortion? If God exists, it appears to be extremely difficult to find a scenario where a woman could justify aborting a child. Scenarios where the mother’s life would be at stake unless the child was terminated may supply us with an opportunity for a narrative of justification, but even those scenarios can prove tricky to argue against the true rightness and wrongness of an action. What is the objective we are trying to meet in this ethical dilemma? Sometimes there are no clear morally right choices, sometimes all we are dealt with are bad choices and we have to pick one.
In a different philosophical narrative, what if a person were to look at the potential of a person in the realm of how much earthly good or bad they would do if they weren’t aborted? Could we be able to now cobble an argument together one way or the other? This is also difficult to say. Even if we could bring an argument to the table regarding potential goodness/badness, how would one quantify the measures, and do we want to quantify the value of life on potential goodness/badness anyway? Doesn’t that seem a bit arbitrary and hard to discern? I think the point is we just don’t know and we cannot know. Of all the babies who have been aborted in human history we will never know if we terminated the baby who would find a cure to cancer, or the next dictator, the next President, the next serial killer, the next neurosurgeon, the next special Olympics gold medalist? And even if we could somehow know this, who are we to stop this before it begins? Perhaps only the true nurturing and love of a mother and father (complete with boundaries and direction) can encourage the direction a youngster may take, and who are we to step in and change that process?
As was mentioned before, we humans try to justify all our actions, especially when we are called out on them. Interestingly enough, in our defensive posturing of justifying our actions we are implicitly affirming the rightness of our action. But what standard would that be based on? If God exists can a woman truly justify aborting a child? Perhaps in her eyes she can, but in God’s eyes the answer is a resounding no. If a woman has a right to do with her body whatever she wants, what behavior is out of bounds and why? Would the same rules apply to men, young, old, deceased, unborn? Are our bodies our own, or do they belong to someone else? Perhaps they belong to God and God bestows the choice to us? Did you make your own body? Does the creature own that which was created by someone else, perhaps a grand Designer?
Aborting a child is only an ethical dilemma because humans have made it so. There is no dilemma here in the eyes of a moral authority such as God. Once we have taken the plunge to allow fetuses to be terminated in the womb, there is little to stop us (which has been evidenced by legislation in Colorado, California, and other states) in why and when we terminate children after they are born. The gloves are off, in a manner of speaking, as we as a country have made our own moral sideboards on the issue, and when a society does that they have now reserved the right to move them any which way and as far as they want, as long as they get enough votes. This is really scary stuff.
My prayer here is that both men and women can see the gravity of a worldview without God in regards to moral issues like abortion. If abortion is truly more about the so-called rights of women doing what they want with their own bodies, just think about the implications of this for everyone across the world? Do we really believe anybody has the right to do with their body as they see fit, even going to the extreme of terminating a child in the womb? Would we blatantly allow suicide without trying to intervene? Remember the difference between a choice and a right.
Please God forgive us and change our hearts from the desires of ourselves being our only god, or moral authority in our life, to giving the honor and authority back to You.