Abortion is a heavily debated topic. “Pro-choice” advocates call for the decriminalisation of abortion, believing that women ought to have full control over their own bodies. “Pro-life” advocates call for the abolishment of abortion, believing that abortion is murder, no matter when or why it takes place. The debate rages on. For a Christian who lives in a country where access to abortion is legal and relatively easy, how should we engage with this issue?
At the heart of the abortion debate lies this question — when does human life begin? Almost everyone would agree that taking an innocent human life is wrong, so this definition is of utmost importance. Most agree that, at the minimum, when the child is viable (able to live) outside the womb at 24 weeks, it is without a doubt a life. This is reflected in the laws of most countries which make an abortion illegal from 24 weeks after conception. Others say that at the point of conception, the child already has potential for life and, therefore, that’s when human life begins. Still others look to the presence of a heartbeat, the capacity of the foetus to sense pain, or the forming of vital organs as a sign of “human-ness”. So, which is it?
Psalm 139:13, Isaiah 44:24 and Jeremiah 1:5 are three enduring verses that describe human life as God’s handiwork that begins in the womb, which would mean right when we are conceived. Scripture teaches us that all children, whether born or unborn, owe their existence to and are cherished by God. So, as long as we are aware of life growing within the womb, we are to be thankful for and cherish it — just as we would any other human being.
The reasons for a mother’s decision to abort her child can seem justifiable. If the pregnancy is unplanned, isn’t it more responsible to abort the child so that they don’t have to struggle under financial hardships or perhaps the emotional difficulties of a single-parent family? What if tests have revealed that the child has Down syndrome, or some deformity or illness that will cause the child much pain in life or even a shortened lifespan? Is it not more merciful to abort the child instead of bringing them into the world to suffer?
We must never dismiss the terrible medical issues and personal ordeals that too many expectant mothers have had to face. But we must also remember that as compelling as these arguments might seem, if we do believe that an unborn child is a God-given life, then the choice to abort the child is, in a way, playing God. Instead of caring for them to the best of our abilities, we decide that aborting them is better than letting them live and suffer, although the suffering we expect is often purely based on possibilities and potential. But how can anyone predict exactly what will come of a life?
Abortion has been labelled a form of female empowerment. Having access to abortion is seen as a way for women to have control over their bodies and their lives, especially if they are not ready for a child or, in cases of rape, did not even choose to have the child to begin with.
Again, we must never turn away from the challenges faced by women and girls around the world. Teenage pregnancy and sexual assault are harsh realities to be addressed and not ignored. But defining the argument for abortion solely in terms of women’s rights force a choice between the mother or the child. It denies a right to life for the unborn child. Yet, demanding for the unborn child’s rights over the mother’s is also unsatisfactory, especially when she may have suffered through trauma like incest. In extreme cases, the decision can even be between saving the mother’s life or the child’s.
At the end of the day, framing the abortion debate as either being for or against women ignores a fundamental reality: there are no real ‘winners’ when it comes to abortion, and it is not a zero-sum game. Instead of prioritising whose rights should be valued over the other’s, we should see the people behind the debate, both the mother and the child, and consider how God values them both.
Abortion is not something that God promotes, and neither should Christians. However, we must remember that women who choose to abort their children are not heartless, and many make the painful and difficult decision of abortion with the view that they are not be able to provide the care the child needs and deserves. We should not blindly accuse them of being selfish or uncaring.
As we seek to understand the way that God sees and loves all of us, we should have compassion for those who are wrestling with this issue or who have gone through an abortion. We can share how God’s amazing grace is here for us in Jesus. Rather than imposing our convictions on those who disagree with us to shame and guilt them into aligning with us or shutting up, let us heed the words of 1 Peter 3:15 to always be ready to give an answer for our beliefs, but to do so with gentleness and respect, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict hearts in the way that we can never do.