Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Abortion isn't a religious issue'

Gary Wills, whose book "Head and Heart: American Christianities" was just published, recently had an opinion piece in the LA Times arguing that "abortion isn't a religious issue."
But is abortion murder? Most people think not. Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived. If it is a human person, killing it is punishing it for something it had nothing to do with. We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount -- or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.
What surprises me is not that Wills, who is Catholic, believes abortion doesn't constitute murder, but that the LA Times would publish such an ancient argument and couch it as a fresh opinion. Wills' position is one of two long held on abortion: either life begins at conception and abortion is murder or fetuses are not yet people so it's permissable.

Also just because the church had a history of doing things one way or because 10 percent of evangelicals would allow abortion under certain circumstances doesn't mean they are in line or out of line with Christian teaching.

Wills is certainly an accomplished author and historian (I can only hope to be so lucky one day); it's just that I find this argument so weak and the topic so stale. For a more compelling read on choice, look to Dan Neil.

And let me know not whether you think abortion is a religious issue, but whether it should be.

(Hat tip: DMN religion blog)

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