Christian Perspectives on Social Justice Issues: Abortion
Editor's Note: HuffPost Religion is running a series of posts by Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes, her co-author on the new book, Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, about how Christians should view social issues. The second issue is: Abortion.
Left, Right and Christian: Mississippi's Family Values
By Lisa Sharon Harper
The pro-life movement catapulted to prominence in 1989 when the first major Supreme Court case to challenge Roe v. Wade hit the courts since the ruling itself. There were pro-life and pro-choice rallies at Rutgers College, Rutgers University every week throughout my junior and senior years. Christian groups sponsored viewings of the 1984 anti-abortion video, "The Silent Scream." And evangelicals assumed if you are saved, then you must be "pro-life."
One day that year my mother and I stumbled into a heated argument. With exasperated arrogance, I bent backwards to convince her that her pro-choice position on abortion was immoral, unfaithful and unchristian.
She asked: "What if the life of the mother is at stake? Should abortion be allowed then?"
"No," I countered flatly.
"Lisa," she explained, "do you remember that time I was pregnant, a few years ago, and I went into the hospital and the baby didn't make it?"
"Yes..." I said.
"I had an abortion," she said. "I almost died and the doctor had to take the baby to save my life." She paused.
"I could have died," she said.
I wish I could tell you I responded with compassion and humility, but I can't. Determined to win the argument, my heart turned to steal. I looked my mother in the eyes -- my mother, the woman who almost died to bring me into the world, who worked nights to put herself through college while raising three small children, who would give up anything to make sure we were provided for -- I looked my mother in the eyes and said: "They should have saved the baby."
Yesterday (Nov. 8), Mississippi voters defeated Ballot Measure 26, "the Personhood Amendment," which would have granted the status of legal person to a fertilized egg. The measure effectively would have outlawed abortion in all circumstances within the state, deeming it murder. It would have made the protection of the mother's life a criminal offense, if that protection risked the life of the fertilized egg.
There were lots of points of controversy over this measure. It was so extreme that even the Catholic Bishops denounced it. For me the most haunting question was this: "Who would it harm most?" My conclusion: families -- especially poor ones. When mothers -- especially poor ones -- die of complications in childbirth, families fold.
Thirty-two percent of households led by single women were poor in 2010, as opposed to 6 percent of two-parent households. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation with an overall poverty rate of nearly 22 percent and a number of counties with rates as high as 48 percent. If Measure 26 had passed, the state's foster care system would have needed to prepare for an onslaught. With no provision to protect the lives of mothers, the system would likely have seen a rise in the rates of children processed and placed in the system. That wave would have included both the fertilized eggs and fetuses born to dead mothers and their motherless brothers and sisters.
How's that for family values?
I often think back to that conversation with my mother. It took decades for our relationship to heal after I knifed her with my words that day. Since then, God has countered the effects of my hardened heart. God has whispered words of truth and health to my mother's soul, "I care about you... I see you... You matter to me... The well-being of your family matters to me."
Yesterday, the mothers of Mississippi heard the same.
Thanks be to God.
Left, Right and Christ: Fighting Abortion from the Left and Right
By D.C. Innes
Mississippi has brought the abortion question before us once more. Of course, the issue is always before us. Abortion takes the life of approximately 3,500 people a day. But that is precisely the question voters in Mississippi addressed in yesterday's election. The rest of us us can be thankful, however, that our humanity does not depend on the opinion of our neighbors on Election Day.
Lisa Sharon Harper, my friend on the left and co-author with me of "Left, Right and Christ," shares my view that abortion is murder and sin (p.121). So, like me, she agrees in principle with those who sponsored the Mississippi ballot initiative. But her response to that murderous sin is not the same as it is to any other murder.
She sees abortion as fundamentally a poverty issue, and thus to be addressed not as a criminal act to be punished and deterred, but the consequence of an economic condition to be alleviated. She cites the Guttmacher Institute which reports that the proportion of abortion patients who were poor jumped by 60 percent in 2008. They also report that "the abortion rate for low-income women was three times that of better-off women." Lisa points to single-parenthood as the condition of 85 percent of women having abortions (p.128). Single-parenthood is, of course, a notorious poverty trap.
But even if we concede that poverty itself is chiefly what determines abortion rates, it does not follow that criminal prosecution of abortionists and the tight control of any abortions that we do permit is the wrong response. If one were to show a correlation between poverty and murder generally -- and this would not be difficult; murder rates are much higher in poor neighborhoods -- then murder would be a poverty problem. Should we then deal with it as such and decriminalized it? Of course not! Poverty problem or not, the first obligation of government is to stop people from killing each other! With protective measures in place, the government can then address the contributing issues.
Dealing with abortion is no different. In addition to preventing us from killing one another, government's chief task is to safeguard those who are especially vulnerable against the oppressive designs of the more powerful. That is a principle on which the Christian left and right can surely agree. The unborn baby (that is what mothers call what is inside of them, regardless of his or her stage of development) is the most helpless among us and the most in need of government protection when his or her mother turns murderously hostile.
Even considering abortion as a poverty issue, the most effective way to address lowering abortion rates is not as simple as offering generous welfare programs. The programs that Lisa lists (p.128) support women in their poverty but do not remedy the condition. In his recent column on economic mobility in America, our brother in Christ Michael Gerson asks, "What can be done to improve the quality of teachers in failing schools, to confront the high school dropout crisis, to encourage college attendance and completion, to reduce teen pregnancy, to encourage stable marriages, to promote financial literacy, to spark entrepreneurship?" These are also the questions that will lead us to lower abortion rates if we address them effectively. But that's a separate discussion.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican