Moral Confusion? PDF Print E-mail

By Terry Schlossberg, PPL Executive Director
Reprinted from Presbyterians Pro-Life NEWS, Fall 1998

In a recent letter to the Washington Post, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), said "aborting a viable fetus is morally wrong - - pure and simple."

Ms. Michelman was responding to the concern expressed by Post columnist William Raspberry that juries appear to be taking infanticide too lightly and that Americans may be learning to accept the killing of newborns as virtually the same as abortion. The idea gave the "pro-choice" columnist second thoughts about abortion - - especially later-term abortion, and Ms. Michelman was trying to reassure him that supporters of abortion have moral standards that would prevent wide-spread acceptance of infanticide. She tells readers that the solution lies in "increased access to and use of contraceptives…"

Incompatible moral universes

Ms. Michelman's logic is a good example of why those who oppose abortion and those who support it tend to talk past each other. There is a system of morality at work on both sides. But it is very difficult for one to follow the other's argument because the worldviews are so diametrically opposed.

Ms. Michelman says that abortion of a viable fetus is wrong - - pure and simple. But she doesn't say what makes it wrong. Now this is important because the implication of Ms. Michelman's statement is that a moral standard kicks in sometime in a pregnancy, and knowing when that is ought to be crucial both to defining sin and writing laws. The trouble has been that viability is so fraught with problems of definition and exceptional situations that the morality just sort of evaporates. The morality of the matter is never really attached to the unborn person, and it is never attached to a standard outside NARAL and the woman who is making the decision.

The obvious logical outcome

So, if you try to follow Ms. Michelman logically, you can't help ending up, as Raspberry did, worrying about the future for babies already born. For example, Peter Singer, now at Princeton University - - not exactly on the fringe - - is among those ethicists who hold that babies should not be considered "viable" for at least a month after birth so that parents have an opportunity to decide if they should be allowed to live. That view is actually more consistent with Ms. Michelman's moral universe than her statement is.

Worldviews have consequences

In the Christian worldview, morality is not subjective. It is God's standard by which any action or decision of ours is measured. The Bible is very clear about God's "knitting together" of what we regard the "not-yet-viable" human being we call an embryo, and his expectation that we will protect and care for every innocent human being. Even Ms. Michelman has some sense that abortion is immoral, although her worldview keeps her from saying exactly when or how that is. And now we see the fruit of abortion emerging in the deaths of babies at the hands of unmarried teenagers. And lots of us are asking with Mr. Raspberry, Where is this leading us? What kind of people are we becoming?

Christianity: A different standard of morality, and different fruit

Even Ms. Michelman is looking for an alternative to abortion. Her worldview, devoid of the dreaded "absolute" standard that makes killing the innocent unequivocally sinful, leaves her with only a technical fix. For her, there is no standard governing sexual morality, so she must resort to "responsible" (which, like "viable," is undefinable) sexual expression and the use of contraceptives.

We in the church are in a tough position. Our standards of morality are quite countercultural today. But they do have an advantage. They don't evaporate on us. And at the end of our logical progression they still make sense. We can hold up God's standard of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness and see the fruit of those decisions in long and blessed marriages, in lives free of sexually transmitted diseases and their consequences, and of children born into stable, loving two parent families. Christian faith does not promise trouble free living, but it does promise God's blessing and help for those who are obedient. And for those who finally see the light, after living in darkness, Christian faith promises a gracious God who, in Jesus Christ, excels in forgiveness and transformation.



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