Over the course of my ministry, I've often avoided entering into the debate surrounding abortion. I do not like the polarity surrounding that conversation, and the seeming inability of either side to listen to the concerns of the other. But mostly, within the public debate and the rhetoric I never found a fair representation of my position.
You see, I am neither "pro-Life", or "pro-Choice", but maintain a position I would call "Choose Life".
I had a youth director who had an ectopic pregnancy. I was with her in the hospital as the drug was being administered that would end that pregnancy. Few would consider that to be an abortion, and yet, terminating a pregnancy is terminating a pregnancy. I cannot imagine anyone who would choose to do anything other when an ectopic pregnancy is being treated. And I would rather imagine that even Catholic Hospitals would allow the procedure to take place.
And then at the other end of the spectrum, I hear of late term abortions and partial birth abortions and I simply cannot fathom ever making that choice. If the baby has developed to the point of being viable, why would not one resort to a live birth? Even if a C-Section is required, is it too much to ask that the baby be allowed the chance at life?
And then in the middle are situations for which there is no clear moral mandate.
One couple within my congregation had to face the tragedy of two of their children being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. In the case of the first child, they did not find out about SMA until after his birth. In the case of the second child, even knowing the genetic risks involved, they chose not to test for SMA and resolved to have the child regardless. And so with each, they both loved the child dearly, but also had to watch their child loose all muscular function until they died within a year or two.
I admire their choice. If all they would have is a couple years with their child, a couple years it would be.
At the same time, I would totally understand if parents, upon finding out that their baby had SMA, would choose to terminate the pregnancy and in doing so, sparing the child the experience of a slow death that starts at birth and lasts a year or so.
My hope would be that in every situation these decisions would be made with a deep regard for the sanctity of Life. More specifically, I would hope that had my wife and I faced such decisions, we would have been guided by our conviction that all life is sacred, the life of the mother, and the life of the child. Those are my personal convictions.
The problem I have with the "Pro-Life" movement is that given the moral complexity surrounding these choices, I am deeply concerned about who makes that decision. Perhaps its my own cynicism, but I am categorically uncomfortable with the government's ability to negotiate the nuances of some of the more complicated moral dilemmas. There is a limit to what government can do. (Does this mean I'm Republican, because I believe in limited government????)
One can simultaneously believe that the moral deliberation and choice in these matters should reside with the parents while at the same time hold fast to the belief that those parents "should" be guided by an awareness of the sanctity of life.
Finally, as a matter of faith, I believe that God has granted us the freedom to choose, and then admonishes us to make the right choice in a particular situation. "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live!" It is both a choice, but a choice in which we are to recognize that life is sacred. Sometimes the choice will be clear, at other times we will face a dilemma in which multiple factors contribute to a moral ambiguity that presents us with no clear mandate. At such times, we do our best, guided by faith, and trusting in the mercy of God.