When we talk about Christian ethics, the first topic that generally comes to mind is abortion. Life. Death. Whether or not a woman should be able to choose whether to carry her own pregnancy to term.
And this is a complicated issue, as we all know. Does it matter how the pregnancy began? Should we make exceptions for rape or incest? What if the woman's financial or social situation would make not only her life, but the life of the child, more difficult? What if the child isn't medically perfect? Should we consider the quality of life of the child?
It's gut-wrenching, and heart-wrenching, for most of us to just say...no. None of that matters. A life is a life is a life. It feels less than compassionate. It feels too hard-lined. It certainly goes against the ethic of our culture, an ethic that is not willing to "diminish" the life of a woman just because she "happened" to get pregnant when she didn't want to.
Part of what this all goes back to is our culture's definition of women. For the longest time, women in our culture were considered "just" mothers. They were homemakers and housewives and their job was to take care of the house and to have and raise the children. As feminism took hold, women began to reject that this was all that they were good for and then, well, their biology began to "betray" them. When a woman becomes pregnant, all of that feminism rears its ugly head and tries to insist to her that she is more than a mother. That hey, she doesn't even have to be a mother at all. She is more than her biology has tried to make her, and if that's not what she wants to be, then, well, she doesn't have to.
That's where our greatest disconnect is on this issue. For many of us, it's about the life of the child. A child who has its own body over which it should be sovereign. A child who doesn't get a choice in the matter. A child who is miraculous because, as we know, not every woman who has sex gets pregnant and even those who do don't get pregnant every time they have sex. We wonder about this child, who he or she might be, and if it's a female child, why she doesn't have the same right to choose that we claim we're giving to all women. But for culture, the question is not about the child (even if she were to be a female child), but about the woman. "Forcing" a woman to carry a baby pushes feminism back fifty years...or so the argument goes.
What happens, then, is that when we're discussing this (as so often happens with ethical matters), our less-than-pretty side comes out. When we can't get our argument through any other way, we start making harsh, judgmental statements about the women involved. "Well, she knows how this happens." "Maybe if she didn't want to have kids, she should have kept her legs closed." "They make birth control for a reason." (Although, to be fair, there are some denominations of Christianity that do not support the use of birth control - and for the very reason described above: pregnancy itself is a miraculous event, one that is not controlled by sex itself.) And on and on and on we go because, it seems, if we can't convince her, then perhaps we can shame her. Perhaps we can make her feel so guilty and disgusted by her own choices that led her here that she'll begin to feel a certain responsibility for the child that she's ready to just throw away. And then, maybe, she'll keep it.
And that's not, my friends, a Christian ethic, no matter how "pro-life" or "anti-abortion" it is. That's not a Christian message. Shame is never a Christian message. Never. And that's why we keep losing this battle. That's why it's so hard for us to gain ground on this.
We could be, and should be, talking about the sanctity of life. We could be, and should be, telling miracle stories. There are thousands of them out there, living among us right now. More, even, than that. We should be talking about the joy that life brings. We should be acknowledging the atrocities of rape and incest, too. We should be talking about life, however broken it is, how beautiful it is, how blessed it is. And there is no room - none - in a pro-life conversation for shame. Not one bit.
The minute that we give up a single breath of Christian love for Christian "principle," we have lost both. And that's what the culture keeps calling us on. And rightfully so.
Of course we want every miraculous life to have a chance, but not...not at the expense of the miraculous life already living. A true Christian ethic on abortion must consider - and affirm - both. This is where we are often tragically falling short, and we must do better.