Resolving a Stalemate with Firepower

I hate talking about abortion. It’s an argument that boils down to a yes-or-no question that is argued so fiercely and yet, no matter how I slice is only ever a matter of opinion. Is a fetus a person? Okay, well, how do you know? Because this is what really, really matters here – if they aren’t then it’s just a medical procedure for a woman who is pregnant, if it is, then abortion is murder. Now there are some arguments that operate along the lines of fetuses have the “potential” for life, the same as the laws that ban birth control. I’m not going to treat those right now, since most Protestant churches are okay with birth control and I’ll be happy to explain in the comments section why I don’t think I’m obliged to have seven children by foregoing birth control.

The Bible does not have a section on explaining when life begins – in fact the OT law, in terms of penalties, clearly does not equate causing a miscarriage and killing a baby. So while the OT law is pretty clear about murder, it does not mention abortion and it only calls for a fine if a miscarriage is caused. So is a fetus a person, having tried to look at the Bible and at early church teaching (which seems to see the primary evil in abortion being that it could be used to hide adultery) I cannot find a resounding “life begins at conception” argument clearly and succinctly stated. I cannot find abortion = murder clearly stated.

This is why I abhor the abortion debate – it’s not even a matter of exegesis or of contrasting the Bible with modern secular law, it seems, for lack of a better term, to be an aesthetic choice and nothing else – for both sides. Gross-out pictures or the “ick-factor” are not reasons to ban things, I’m really squeamish about contacts and laser-eye surgery myself, but you don’t see me picketing those places. Likewise women’s rights are very important and yet that doesn’t mean that they trump the rights of those we are sure are children. At their core, all arguments I have read on this topic appear to boil down to “from conception to birth this thing inside a woman is a human baby/fetus because I say it is” and little else. This is why the rhetoric on this topic is so heated – it reminds me of Doug Wilson’s story about the preacher’s Sunday sermon notes that read “argument weakest here, be sure to yell” or something to that effect. 

So the debate really becomes a shouting match, a contest to see who can have their aesthetic choice prevail over the alternative. It just doesn’t seem fruitful to participate in such exchanges, they seem destined to go nowhere. 

Of course in the minds of some they do go somewhere, and that somewhere is, tragically, to the gun store and then to the home/church/offices of an abortion doctor. While the mainstream pro-life movement is quick to denounce these monstrous acts, there remain uncomfortable questions:

“If abortion truly is what the pro-life movement says it is — if it is the infliction of deadly violence against an innocent and defenseless human being — then doesn’t morality demand that pro-lifers act in any way they can to stop this violence? I mean, if I believed that a guy working in an office down the street was murdering innocent and defenseless human beings every day, and the governing authorities repeatedly refused to intervene on behalf of the victims, I might feel compelled to do something about it, perhaps even something unreasonable and irresponsible. Wouldn’t you?”

This did not sit well with Halden who concluded that only extreme pacifists could logically remain pro-life and still condemn last weekend’s assassin:

“As such, I submit that there is no consistent way to be pro-life and at the same time condemn the murder of abortionists — unless one is a pacifist. Only if you truly believe that violent action cannot be morally used in the service of life and peace does it make sense for pro-lifers to condemn murdering abortionists. And to my knowledge and experience, the majority of pro-lifers, at least in America, are quite hawkish and would never be caught dabbling in pacifism. This majority brand of the pro-life position is rightly caught in a moral conundrum. They have no consistent moral ground to oppose violence against abortionists so long as they affirm the morality of any and all defensive violence. As such, you can’t be a consistent as a pro-life condemner of actions like Roeder’s unless you are a pacifist.”

So I guess hardcore Quakers et al are okay, but for other Christians who condemn the practice of abortion, there seems to be no way to escape this trap. Mainstream Christians routinely compare abortion to the Holocaust, and if this is the case, condemning Roeder would be in the same category as condemning the Warsaw Uprising or the Free French under DeGaulle. If you push the abortion=murder argument to its logical conclusion, then this ugly, awful place where a man is gunned down brutally in a church while his wife is in the choir seems to be inexorably where you end up.