In these contentious times in a which abortion is always a popular topic for debate, I find myself, as a clergyperson, frequently asked, “Are you pro-life or are you pro-abortion?”
Frankly, I find this to be an illogical inquiry. It is like asking one if he or she is pro-Phillies or pro-Jets. For those disinterested in professional sports, the Phillies and Jets play in entirely different arenas. One is a professional baseball team, the other is a professional football club. The question posed to me and, no doubt, to many of my colleagues, is a loaded one and it does nothing to improve the usefulness of the debate on this important issue.
I suggest that most persons, including most professional persons, would respond that they are most certainly pro-life. For many years, the most important qualification for rationality has been a commitment to life, or, more precisely, living. A rational person pursues life and promotes it if possible. There is a strong relationship between rationality and morality. Professor Bernard Gert, formerly of Dartmouth University, has described this well in his book The Moral Rules and subsequent works. It is a standard textbook in ethics and other philosophy courses in various colleges and universities.
As a rational person, I want to think of myself as pro-life. And as an ethical person, I believe that this must be much more than just a political slogan. Life is complex and there are serious and complex debates over its nature. When does it begin? When does it end? And what constitutes a good life? As a Methodist clergyperson, I find myself necessarily involved in these discussions, which are not always comfortable.
Part of the difficulty is that proponents of the anti-choice position tend to be inconsistent in their promotion of “life.” This inhibits rational discussion. I do know some fellow religious who do oppose abortion. But they also oppose capital punishment, euthanasia, species extinction and even war, anything that could limit life. And they also oppose social and political efforts to reduce health, housing and nutritional resources and services for individuals and families at risk. This consistency is appealing and intellectually defensible.
It seems that many of those who characterize themselves as “pro-life” without taking the bold commitment to supporting the actions and policies needed to promote and sustain life are merely being “anti-choice” or, if they wish, “anti-abortion.” This position is a lot more difficult to defend, as it does less to promote life and more to inhibit personal freedom. In doing this, those who would take away choice also limit the definition of LIFE, the very thing that they claim so strongly to support.
My Methodist religious tradition freely admits its reluctance to endorse abortion and certainly states the limits of its tolerance (e.g., abortions later in pregnancy). It states “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.
“But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.”
“We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases, we support the legal option of abortion…”
I frankly submit that this is a “pro-life” position, even with its allowances for abortion as a necessary choice. Without the option that anti-choice advocates would take away, life becomes restricted and diminished. The ability to respond appropriately and effectively to these “tragic conflicts” is limited. And this does not truly promote or support life.