Embedded vanishingly deep in America’s ongoing abortion war are private Christian assumptions. These beliefs obscure the real source of the conflict and vastly complicate any reasoned discussion of practical resolutions.
Religion aside, most people likely still view the concept of abortion warily because it’s manifestly life-and-death but not black-and-white. It is the purposeful ending of a life form, and Americans—as all human beings—generally tend to view that choice and action as profound. The confounding factor is at what stage a life is taken, and how advanced a life form it is at that moment. That is why pictures of very baby-like aborted fetuses are presented by so-called “pro-life” proponents to argue their position that abortion is murder of a person. So-named “pro-choice” adherents, conversely, argue that fetuses are not viable persons and until late in development feel no pain, thus mitigating moral questions about terminating a pregnancy already underway.
But, in fact, religion is never beside the point in America. With more than 70 percent of Americans self-admitted Christians, the faith’s assumptions are never far from social-issue discussions. But, still, the discrepancies in logic are never clear-cut. Even august Christian father St. Augustine of Hippo wrestled with pinpointing when a developing human in the womb acquired a soul and, thus, responsibility for its inherited “original sin.” Plus, there is nothing in scripture that specifically forbids abortion, pre or post original sin. The Bible only codifies the sanctity of life, an unfortunately vague concept, while the Ten Commandments condemn killing. But “killing” is also nebulous (Is it OK in war? What about when being attacked? Can we squash insects?).
So abortion has become a rigidly binary choice. To the faithful, it is immoral and against God’s law, although those laws are open to wildly varying human interpretation. To the empirical, secular mind, it is about determining when developing life forms—e.g., immature zygotes, sperm and eggs—become senescent and viable.
Of course, some people believe women embody absolute control over everything in their being, at any stage, even if that means choosing to have an abortion long after the 20-week milestone is breached. But I suspect for most people the logic isn’t that easy. After all, there’s always a bit of God-playing involved, and many people believe that is mortally sinful. Yet, the fact that Homo sapiens (“man the wise”) has evolved with what previously seemed God-like powers means we invariably and perpetually use them, even before justifying any morally risky potential.
So, serious discussions about abortion should take into consideration the less-than-absolute underpinnings of inflexible Christian assumptions about the issue and also the often debatable consensus of pro-choice proponents.
It’s probably reasonable to say that abortion should be legal, rare, and in each instance logically and ethically defensible. That should be the goal, not re-enforcing knee-jerk ideology on either side. This is a quandary that ultimately should only be resolved rationally, not emotionally. Supernatural ideas should not be part of it, being moot already.