Why Abortion Should Not Be Politically Decisive for Christians

Abortion Politically Decisive
I recall years ago on the Sunday before a national election a surprise awaited members of the congregation I served when they returned to their cars after worship. Under each of the windshield wipers someone had placed a leaflet that declared in large bold print, “IT IS A SIN TO VOTE FOR BILL CLINTON!” A picture of a fetus was also on the front of the leaflet. A local pro-life organization decided they had the liberty to come onto our church property during worship to promote their position without asking anyone’s permission. This is a common practice.

An estimated 125,000 abortions take place throughout the world every day, over 3,000 of them daily in the U.S. or about 22% of all pregnancies. I find those numbers troubling. What can be done to address this problem?  Clearly many Christians are convinced they know exactly what must be done. The Vatican speaks not only for Roman Catholics but for many Protestants as well in saying that abortion must be made illegal and punished as a crime. The assumptions behind this strategy are (1) that making abortion legal leads to many more abortions and (2) that outlawing abortion and punishing providers and the women who seek their help will reduce the practice of abortion and save the unborn. But these assumptions have no basis in fact.

I am convinced that abortion is a sin. The claim, “It’s my body and I can do what I want to” is utterly unpersuasive to me. Since I affirm with scripture that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalms 24:1), I can’t blithely accept a notion of freedom and self-determination that asserts a right to put an end to a developing human life for any reason whatsoever. I am, however, unconvinced by those who insist that full-fledged, soul-imbued human life starts at conception; I find that to be a strange view given that 80% of all embryos fail to become imbedded in the wall of the uterus where they can develop. Still I find it morally offensive to deliberately interrupt the trajectory of a growing fetus.

Related: Murder in Our Hearts – by Morf Morford

But at the same time, I believe that abortion should not be a factor for Christians when assessing politicians or political parties. A compelling reason for this is that there is no evidence that restrictive laws and policies have any impact on reducing abortions. None. Research reported on earlier this year showed “restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.” Those who have done the most research on global abortion policy have found that restrictive and punitive laws simply do not serve their purpose: “Just as laws banning abortion do not stop women from having them, it is equally true that permissive laws do not cause them to do so.”

Comparative international studies reveal that “the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America—regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.” These findings should give pause to those who think the answer to abortion prevention is in passing strict anti-abortion legislation. The political commitment of some Christians has obscured the truth.

Hard-line anti-abortion activists are committed to a strategy to eliminate abortions that ignores facts in the real world. We need to ask, “Where do we find the lowest rates of abortion on the planet?” The anti-abortion activists would have us believe that it is where abortion is outlawed and practitioners of abortion are punished. In fact, that isn’t at all true. The nation where the smallest percent of pregnant women get abortions is the very liberal Netherlands. Rather than being a place where laws against abortion are strict and the penalties high, abortion is legal and easily available.

This is not at all what those who use abortion as a political wedge issue would have us believe. Continually they lay every legal abortion performed at the feet of politicians who don’t pay tribute to the pro-life orthodoxy, as though supporting legal abortion actually causes it to happen. Nevertheless, the fact remains that making abortion legal does not make it occur more often. To claim, as many on the religious right do on a regular basis, that pro-choice politicians are “baby-killers” or supporters of infanticide is viciously deceitful.

Brave New Films

Given that instituting laws against abortion have not been demonstrated to reduce abortions, it makes little sense for Christians to remain fixated on this issue in the way they have done. The expenditure of energy and the outpouring of rhetoric against legal abortion will result in no positive gains for life, even if the efforts are successful. For this reason outlawing abortion should cease to be a focus for people of faith so far as politics and public policy are concerned. Those who are truly pro-life would do the world more good by turning attention to genuinely life saving, life-enhancing matters like food, shelter and health-care for the needy.

The one thing that has had some success in reducing abortions is the easy availability of contraceptives. True, this is not the case in every situation but it is in many. Abstinence-only programs have had no demonstrated positive effect, researchers have found. Those who seek both to outlaw abortion and reduce the availability of contraceptives are the ones who insure that the most abortions will take place and do so in the least safe conditions, endangering pregnant women. In other words, those who purport to be pro-life are inadvertently pro-death.

Also by Craig: The Nationalistic Corruption of Worship in America

Unfortunately, the abortion issue has allowed many Christians – and conservatives as a whole – to claim to be working to defend the most vulnerable when in fact they are turning attention and national resources away from those who are most desperately in need. The good that actually could be done to protect life isn’t done because pro-life Christians lend their support to politicians who are most likely to block funding for programs for children and families of the weakest and most impoverished. The abortion issue ends up serving as a smokescreen behind which certain politicians work in the interests of those who are the most rich and powerful.

I hate abortion. But this is not the issue that should be mobilizing Christians when it comes time to vote. The belief that legislation will save unborn lives is misguided. Love, persuasion and an environment of support will accomplish much more.  Imagining that legislation will stop abortion is just wishful thinking. Such legislation, were it to become law, would do more harm than good by pushing women to turn to unsafe illegal abortion. If Christians are going to be politically engaged, let it be for issues that truly matter for the well-being of those who are the most vulnerable and least advantaged.

Craig M. Watts is the minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, Florida and Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship. He authored the book Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Doulos Christou Press: Indianapolis, 2005) and his essays have appeared in many journals such as Cross Currents, Encounter, the Otherside, DisciplesWorld and more. Craig blogs on the Disciples Peace Fellowship’s, “Shalom Vision.”

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  • Kindra Crandell

    Thank you for putting my exact thoughts into words.

  • The stats in this article are terribly misleading, the birthrate in the Netherlands is 11.1 per 1000 people, the lowest birthrate in Africa is almost double that at 20.15 in Algeria, and the highest is almost 5 times as high at 48.53 in Niger. As a whole lets say Africa’s birth rate is 3 times greater than the Netherlands, that means that if you compare the abortion rate in Africa to the abortion rate in the Netherlands, then the Netherlands aborts a higher percentage of births. Also for your consideration is that the Netherlands per capital income is $50K a year, while the average African income is $3,500 a year. So the negative impact of an additional unplanned child is much greater and therefore the incentive to break the law and abort in Africa is very high, compared to the incentive to abort in the Netherlands. Also, I can guess that the medical care, and availability of contraceptives is much better in the Netherlands than Africa and so there are probably far less unplanned births. But despite that the abortion rate is lower in Africa. Maybe its because its illegal?

    • Zeke

      Jace, I’m missing something here. Leading comparative studies on abortion look at abortions per 1000 of women of child-bearing age 15-44. Here is another study earlier than the one Watts cited: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/25s3099.html The fact that there are more births in African nations is not relevant. The fact remains that per thousand women more abortions are taking place in Africa than in Europe where abortion is legal. It is nonsense to focus on birthrate. The birthrate in African nations would be even higher without the abortions that are taking place. And in European nations it would also be higher, though still not as high. The fact is that it is not births that are aborted but pregnancies. African women have more abortions because there are more unwanted pregnancies in Africa than in Europe. This is not because the women are less fertile or are having less sex. It is because, not only is abortion readily available, but contraceptives and sex education about how to effectively use them is pervasive, unlike in Europe. Your mistaken claim that abortion rates are lower in Africa fails to take into account what is -and should be – compared. Not birth rate, not even pregnancies, but the number of abortions in relation to a standard number of women of child-bearing age. The studies confirm exactly what the above author claim: anti-abortion laws don’t lead to a reduction of abortion. They are not saving innocent lives and truly pro-life people need to abandon pushing anti-abortion laws, not because abortion is morally right, but because there are more effective ways to reduce them. To claim those who hate abortion, like the above author, is either pro-abortion or pro-choice just because he rejects a fruitless strategy is deeply dishonest. Let’s work against abortion in ways that make a difference.

      • Zeke

        I wrote the wrong word in line 11 of my above post. It is supposed to be “…unlike in Africa.”

  • Legality or illegality or the machinations of social-engineering do not matter to a human baby torn from its mother’s womb in the name of convenience or female empowerment. You cannot legislate morality, true. But you can punish immorality with legislation. This should be the purpose of legislation to begin with. Your argument is basically, “Sure, I hate abortion…but…come on, they’re gonna do them anyways so let’s keep them legal, safe, easily available and just love on all those involved and not tell them they are committing murder.” Yeesh.

    • Lee

      I see. So the laws are really just about being punitive and not about reducing abortions. So we institute laws that in fact don’t really save more innocent lives but we get to feel righteous about it because somebody gets punished. I don’t think I want to live in the same world you want to live in. But if you really believe abortion is murder and that a holocaust is going on then I wonder why you and those who share your view are pushing such a lame response like laws instead of getting out there and acting in a way that is in keeping with the level of evil you claim is being practiced. Big rhetoric but little decisive and determined action to stop something you claim is mass murder. Or maybe I just misunderstand you. Oh, and by the way, the women I know who have had abortions didn’t do so “in the name of convenience or female empowerment.” They did so because of what they believed was a tragic necessity. I think abortion is a sin but not murder.

  • John Brown

    So, based on the logic expressed by the author of this article, we should expect murder rates to be lowest in those countries where murder is legal, right? Anyone for legalizing murder to reduce the murder rate? Anyone? Absurd. Also no footnotes I see.

    • Ben

      John, apparently you don’t understand the function of hyperlinks. The article has plenty of them and they serve as footnotes. Click on them and they will provide you with an article that supports the ideas of the author.

    • Traci

      “Anyone for legalizing murder to reduce the murder rate?”

      Sadly, yes. They call it the “Death Penalty.”

  • God Gave Us Brains

    After the Communist regime of Romania was toppled in December 1989 it was revealed that Romania’s absolute ban on abortion resulted in many dead mothers and fetuses in alleys and secluded places. Some clergymen and politicians claim that there are more lives aborted per year in America than the number of lives eliminated in the WW2 Holocaust (over 11 million!). That’s a gross insult to all those Holocaust victims (and survivors too). Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandras, says abortion is murder but in order to deal with the issue of the unborn we must deal with the problems of the born. President Barack Obama stated at the University of Notre Dame that the factors that can lead to abortion must be tackled first. What it boils down to is when ever someone brings up an issue, shows a picture, strikes a pose, strikes up passions or stirs up reactions we need to quit falling for these Jedi mind tricks, stop reacting like science lab rats and start thinking.

  • Christine Schwartz

    Someone FINALLY says exactly how I feel!!! So beautifully written! Thank you.

  • Hal

    The writer says, “abortion should not be a factor for Christians when assessing politicians or political parties.” I wish he would have included what factors he believes should be used to assess politicians or parties. The same argument made in the article could be made about every moral issue. He is right that we cannot change moral values through legislation or judicial process. Christ did not call us to make people moral. Does that mean Christians should not stand against and should be silent on these issues? John the Baptist was not (Mark 6:14-29). Paul was not (Romans 1), and most important Jesus was not, (See Sermon on the Mount). Were the Christians in Germany right to remain silent about the Holocaust?

    A person’s morality will not determine his or her eternal destiny. If a person dies believing that homosexuality is wrong or believing that homosexuality is right, pro-life or pro-abortion, Republican or Democrat, without Christ they are going to end up in the same place – hell. The only way to transform our society is from the inside out. It’s Christ that changes lives one person at a time. However, no one can come to Christ without understanding sin in their own lives. We stand against sin, understanding we are all guilty and proclaim hope by proclaiming that Christ died for sin and rose from the dead and changes the hearts of all who repent and believe – to hate sin (to include lying, theft, murder, homosexuality, abortion, etc) and love Christ.

  • Tim

    “I find that to be a strange view given that 80% of all embryos fail
    to become imbedded in the wall of the uterus where they can develop.”

    Did this guy even read what he was referencing? The so-called 80% of all embryos fail is in reference to IN-VITRO FERTILIZATION.

    From this citation:
    “When embryos fertilized in a Petri dish during in-vitro fertilization reach
    the eight-cell stage, one or more are chosen to be transferred to the mother’s
    uterus. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of all transferred embryos will
    successfully implant in the wall of the uterus and continue to develop, according
    to Smith”

  • Anonymous Anonymous

    What I did, was, I looked at the number of abortions in the US over the years. There are many laws against abortion that have lost as the years go on. It is logical to say, that abortion has been less readily available, if at all. There is no way that the number of women who are willing to abort illegally, is anywhere close to the number of babies that are dying, as the years go on,..

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