SA Voters’ Guide Critique #2: Abortion

We continue our critique of the Christian Action document Biblical principles for Using Your Vote on The author’s second point concerns the parties’ opposition to abortion.

Is this principle Biblical?
Yes, it is. The Christian case against abortion rests on the idea that man is created in God’s image, and that man’s life is a gift of God from the womb. For Christians, human value rests in our created nature, and every living human being is worthy of protection.

Is it essential?
This certainly is an essential issue for Christians. However, I am hesitant to say that a Christian may not vote for a party that is pro-choice for the following reasons.

Christian arguments against abortion seem to begin with the Christian presuppositions mentioned above, and tend not to go any further than that. Peter Hammond’s article against abortion does just that. It begins with a brief Biblical case proving that abortion is murder in scripture, and then provides anecdotes from people who now regard abortion as despicable. In other words, the only argument of any kind is a scriptural one.

But given that we live in a plural society in which scripture is not acknowledged as authoritative, can we hold parties responsible for not listening to us if we have failed both to understand abortion from a secular viewpoint, and failed to argue in terms that are common to all? We have quoted scripture to a world that disbelieves it, but we have done little or nothing to actually persuade our nation of the wisdom of our beliefs.

Almost everyone agrees that a foetus is alive in its own right. We disagree over whether human life is worth protecting in itself. From a secular perspective, personhood depends upon the functioning of human memory, reason, will, self-awareness etc. If these elements are not present, a human might be alive, but it is not a person. Killing it, therefore, is much like killing an animal, which, while not desirable, is not usually illegal. If a family can’t afford to keep its dog and thus has it put down, we might frown upon the action, but we wouldn’t call it murder. If we want to outlaw abortion, we need to demonstrate why killing a thing that may not even have a functioning nervous system yet is worse than killing a pet, and as serious as killing the child’s mother.

Given that we generally fail to argue convincingly (or at all), we can hardly find political parties culpable for sustaining their own beliefs and rejecting ours. After all, we do much the same when reject Sharia Law because it holds no authority for us.

Abortion is important, but it is a relatively small part of governance in general, and so if there is a party that stands for justice (and which therefore might become convinced that abortion is unjust), a Christian might be able to suspend judgment upon their attitude to abortion until such time as we’ve made a properly reasoned case against abortion.

The rule here is for Christians to obey conscience in voting, and to work harder in persuading the world of our wisdom.

Has the author been fair?
In general, yes. However, a simple yes or no answer is often not satisfactory. For example, although he marks them as in favour of abortion, the IFP claims to be opposed to abortion but with limited exclusions, such as when the mother’s life is in danger. I would be interested to hear what Christian parties say about such extreme cases.


10 thoughts on “SA Voters’ Guide Critique #2: Abortion

  1. Brendon Schafer says:

    I don’t think the question is where Christian parties stand on extreme cases, often called the ‘hard cases’ of abortion. The question is where is your compromise? Either murder is always wrong, or it isn’t – like when the state says it is okay to kill Jews, because they are not human.
    In the specific case you mention, the doctor should recognize that he actually has 2 patients. The mother and the child and he should do everything he can to save both lives.
    You also state that abortion is a relatively small part of governance. Well, pre-born children created in God’s image being murdered at a rate of about 50,000 a year is not a small matter, especially when your tax money is being spent to finance these murders.
    The abortuaries do not have a fundamental desire to counsel people to not have abortions either (which is what they should do), because they don’t get money out of it. They only get paid for the abortions. It also isn’t about the difficult questions either, the question is about the total freedom to have an abortion for any and every reason out there, or a matter of just writing the right words on a form.
    There will always be abortions, but we should make it harder for people to have them, not easier, and we shouldn’t be paying people through our tax money to commit those murders.
    Using our tax money and remaining silent on this holocaust makes you and me guilty as accessories to murder.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      No, the Christian view on the hard cases certainly isn’t the big question; it would just be interesting.

      I agree with most of what you’ve said, especially your ‘two patient’ view. I of course agree with you that murder is wrong and that abortion is murder and that it is a serious political issue for us. What I meant by it being a small part of governance is that there are scores of other issues, such as economics, foreign policy, attitude to the environment etc., that also concern thousands of lives, and which also should concern us (but which have received very superficial treatment on this guide). And the major point of my critique in this post is that we keep just saying that abortion is murder without paying attention to the fact that most do not regard a foetus as a person yet (murder concerns people, not the termination of life; meat is not murder).

      We need to work against abortion with the recognition that our nation has different ideas to us regarding what constitutes personhood. Shouting louder just makes us look silly. We either have to demonstrate that a bundle of cells with no self-awareness, reason, (nervous system?) yet is in fact a person, or we have to work at persuading the vast majority of the country that our view of personhood, even if not provable, is better than the utilitarian one.

      I would not expect government to change policies just because the Qu’ran says something and Muslims are rioting about it. So why should we expect them to do it for us if we haven’t taken the trouble to persuade properly?

  2. Brendon Schafer says:

    Hard to crit what you said and I agree that we need to persuade our nation that a bunch of cells without self-awareness etc is a person.
    I have a feeling though that the very fact that this is a political issue is altogether wrong. It shouldn’t even be coming up for discussion.
    That fact that it is a political issue at all shows us how far we have wondered from God’s Word.

    God, help us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world as we ought to be.

  3. John Child says:

    2 brief comments.
    1. Jordan I don’t think you’re fair re the pro life position just citing biblical texts. This may true of some groups but not all. Doctors For Life for instance have brought detailed scientific evidence to the Constitutional Court & Parliamentary hearings. Michael Cassidy has presented a broad range of arguments; Catholics present natural law arguments; letters to Editors present many arguments; academics have written detailed ethical arguments. The fact is that the liberals control the newspapers, popular magazines, TV & radio talk shows. Seldom if ever have I heard an articulate pro life presenter or read a pro life journalist. Our view is not PC, is against the Constitution & against the spirit of the times. It is unfair to blame the Christians for political parties who take a pro choice position.

    2. Brendon’s comment that it is ‘wrong’ that abortion is a political issue is puzzling. Politics is about rule & rule is about making choices re policies & actions & such policies & actions are always moral. How can political discussion re the ethics of abortion be wrong? Is it sinful to discuss ethical issues? Sinful to discuss matters of justice? Human rights? Of course not. As we are not in heaven sin will be present so rulers will always have to discuss society’s sins and seek to restrain sin (the first use of the law). So abortion should be a political issue in SA as some 50 000 innocent babies are being killed each year & the mothers, nurses & doctors who kill them are not being punished. Brendon though is right that this shows how far we’ve turned from God’s Word.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Ok. Thanks for that, John. It may just be that public presentation is skewed, and I need to look into it more carefully. Hammond’s article attached to the voter’s guide is of the hysterical kind that I’ve usually come across, and which does us no favours. I do wonder how we go about turning the tide… I’d be interested to hear what you think as regards whether Christians are justified in voting for pro-choice parties and on what grounds.

  4. Brendon Schafer says:

    Thanks John. Just for clarity. The very fact that abortion is a political issue at all is wrong. We shouldn’t even be debating about whether murder is right or wrong. Given that it is a political issue does of course give Christians an opportunity to debate and to give evidence and to seek even more evidence if needed.
    Jordan. I think one way that we can change the law, may not be to tackle the law first at all. In ancient times, when children were abandoned to die, Christians just took them in to look after them. They put this abandonment business out of business. I think we can do the same today. Instead of protesting and making a noise (there may be a place for it though), we should be caring for pregnant mothers and actively adopting infants from these so called crisis pregnancies.

  5. John Child says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Brendon. Your idea is a good one but … Sure the early church put the baby abandonment business out of business and so would Christians today except that so many kill their babies before we can intervene & persuade them to carry their babies to term so we ca adopt them. Christians in the US especially have been extremely active in not only protesting abortion but in setting up numerous counselling centres, adoption agencies, facilities for teenage girls to stay in before & after having their babies, etc. It is simply not true that Christians just protest & do little. To a lesser extent this happens in SA; our churches though have not given much time to the abortion problem. We’ve been focussing on the racial question, poverty, crime & HIV/Aids.

    On the positive side I know several evangelical Christians & Christian ministers who have adopted HIV babies & babies across the colour line. There is a huge demand for babies & it would be wonderful if we could persuade more mothers not to kill their babies but let them be born & given for adoption. We should all give thought how better to do this.

    Jordan, you were in universities work. How much time was given to this at the Y? What are other student work ministries doing in this field? We should check with SU & ask what they are doing in their schools work re this. Then our churches. Is this dealt with in youth groups & senior Sunday School? And in the pulpit? There is a pro life Sunday end Jan or early Feb each year. I’ve never seen this taken up in any CESA church. Somehow preaching the gospel & preaching through biblical books does not touch these crucial issues of life & death.

  6. Brendon Schafer says:

    John. Your points are all valid.
    I realize that the problem is bigger than I made it out to be. Getting 50000 mothers into a home or something for 6-9 months per year to go to term to have a baby from a crisis pregnancy, then to find homes for these babies afterwards is no small project, and I only see this total escalating.
    I doubt you’d have backing from government for these crisis pregnancies either – so the Body of Christ will have to go it alone. An opportunity to be Salt and Light to our dark world.

  7. Mary says:

    There is an excellent work on the subject by Randy Alcorn, entitled “Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments”. It presents intelligent, compassionate responses to the “hard cases” as well.

  8. Mary says:

    As to the author’s reasons for voting pro-life being Christian, remember that he is addressing a Christian audience, which ought to respond to Biblical injunctions to protect the weak.

    On the issue of pro-life being a Christian viewpoint: It is true that most pro-lifers are religious, and it has been implicitly associated with Christianity, but one does not need to be Christian to understand that that it is wrong, so long as one understand that murder is wrong and that the scientific facts show this to be murder. A case in point is the following group of atheist and agnostic pro-lifers:

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