Pro-life peacemakers

Extremists hinder compromise on abortion

Jun 10, 2019 by

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Years ago, a Mennonite man shared his experience of facing an awful question: Should his wife have an abortion? An ultrasound during the first trimester had revealed a fetal abnormality. Doctors said the risks to her health were substantial and the chances of a miscarriage or stillbirth were high. They advised the couple to take a few days to decide what to do.

The man contemplated the possible death of his wife. He envisioned the demands of caring for a severely handicapped child. Would he be able to endure either of these outcomes?

The couple chose to have an abortion. Afterward, tests confirmed what the ultrasound had indicated. Looking back on those traumatic days, the man wondered how anyone could judge their decision or want the state to make it for them.

The story of a couple agonizing over a question of life and death makes a politicized issue personal. Phrases like “abortion on demand” bear little resemblance to the actual experience of those who face a decision no one could take lightly.

Abortion once again moved to the front of U.S. political debate last month when several states passed legislation designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision recognizing abortion rights. Alabama enacted a nearly total ban on abortion. Four Southern states and Ohio banned abortions after six or eight weeks of pregnancy or when a fetal heartbeat is detected. The new laws may not survive challenges in federal courts. But with an anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court, the pro-life movement sees its goal of overturning Roe within reach.

Alabama’s new law, providing no exceptions for rape or incest and setting 99-year prison sentences for abortion providers, stands out as extreme even to some staunch opponents of abortion. If the law proves to be an overreach, it could hurt the pro-life cause.

Only about 20 percent of Americans want abortion outlawed altogether, although most favor some restrictions. This broad middle ground — accepting abortion as always legal in the early stages of pregnancy but favoring restrictions in most cases after that time — offers the possibility of compromise.

But for pro-life purists, compromise exposes contradictions. If abortion is always child murder, logically there ought to be no exceptions; a rape victim should be forced to give birth. Yet many in the anti-abortion movement support exceptions for rape and incest.

Both sides deny ethical dilemmas in an unrealistic quest for total victory. An apparent lack of concern for the welfare of economically disadvantaged women and children makes the pro-life movement appear hypocritical. For their part, pro-choice activists’ failure to acknowledge the moral dimension of abortion hinders honest discussion of a complex issue.

In the heat of the abortion fight, the nation needs to hear the voices of peacemaking Christians whose definition of what it means to be pro-life includes opposing war and capital punishment and reducing abortion by supporting affordable health care and access to contraception.

Mennonite Church USA’s 2003 abortion statement models a peace-church approach.   It recognizes complex ethical concerns while calling members to bear witness that all human life is a gift from God. It urges Christians to “provide viable alternatives to abortion that provide care and support for mothers and infants.” The statement opposes abortion but does not call for criminalizing it.

The faith community, says the MC USA statement, should be a place for discernment about difficult issues like abortion. This discernment will be needed in the coming years as the battle over abortion heats up.


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