I'm writing to you now from this liminal time in America before the release of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that will likely determine that fundamental individual human rights not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution are not protected from laws made by the States. When they release their decision, 13 U.S. States already have "trigger laws" in place to ban abortions, and another 13 are very likely to pass new bans. 26 out of 50 - more than half of the country - will ban something that a steady majority of the country believes should be legal.
About a dozen years ago, a former Facebook friend asked on his wall, "Has anyone ever changed their mind about an issue as important as abortion?" I answered "yes." Because when I was 12, in 1984, I was a die-hard, pro-life, Reagan Republican kid who believed what I had been told about abortion - both overtly by pro-life voices on my radio (like Dr. James Dobson and his Focus on the Family show) and tacitly by my family and church (who didn't like talking about it at all). But five years later, when I was 17, I had reason to begin questioning the things I had always had such rock-solid faith in.
(I wrote about that process in "Why I Am A None" a few years back if you want to explore that journey.)
But, when I told my Facebook friend about my change of mind, he asked what made me "switch sides" - and I told him, I had learned enough about the issue to realize that the decisions about it should be left to the people involved - the pregnant person, their doctor, and anyone the pregnant person chooses to be involved. He said, in clear frustration, "But you just re-framed the question!" and unfriended me soon after.
I understand why he was frustrated. I didn't address his central, overriding concern. He, like 12-year-old me, and like the minority of Americans who feel strongly that abortion should be banned, believes that abortion is the murder of a child.
It isn't. But he believes it is - and while I wouldn't expect anyone to take a journey that took me many years to complete in a moment, I feel like I owe him and the many people who hold onto that idea an accounting of the facts, evidence, and reasoning that led me to this conclusion. I'll start with the one that is least important to me, but most important to most of those in the minority:
God says it isn't
You can, of course, believe whatever you choose to believe. It's a free country (or so I'm told). If you want to believe that the Bible tells you to oppose the practice of abortion, you are free to believe that - but it's not true.
You can "do your own research" and find all kinds of people arguing strenuously that many verses talk about the value of life as a general concept - I found several such articles on the Focus on the Family website. Here I was, thinking that an organization as ardently in favor of banning abortion would have the strongest Biblical evidence and analysis available. Here's what I found with a brief search:
Reading the verses they cited literally, those scriptures say nothing at all about abortion - at best, they claim that certain prophets were destined "from the womb" to be important. Reading these verses literally, by the way, you will note that the text explicitly charges us to care for orphans and widows, providing them material support and looking out for their health. They make a much more powerful case for mandating health care and public housing than they do for a ban on abortion.
I'm not alone in arriving at the conclusion that the Biblical view on abortion does not define it as "murder". In 1979, Billy Graham's magazine, Christianity Today, edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible, published an article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary which criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. That article said:
God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.
That isn't just one niche position, either. That's an interpretation that has some scholarly weight behind it (see "the Episcopal perspective" in this academic article). It wasn't until the early 1980s that evangelical churches began shifting their positions on this - you can read more about that from The Slacktivist, if you like. He also explains why that view shifted, if you're interested in seeing how the question was reframed before I came on the scene and joined the narrative.
Like I said, you can choose to ignore all of this and hold onto your belief. But know that if you do, you should know that I've read your book, and I know that you're either simply wrong or lying about what it says.
Our Definitions Don't Match
I'm going to proceed as if my first point did not convince you. I will assume that you went to those Focus on the Family links and found their assertions about the sanctity of life to be very convincing. "If a man kills any human life..." etc. "Thou shalt not kill." And an abortion ends a life, therefore... Clearly, you must feel that the interpretation of "when life begins" has shifted since 1979, and I have two problems with that.
First, I have observed a definite mismatch between the numbers of different things that aren't abortions and the number of things that pro-life apologists count as abortions. Depending on your source (and how radical the organization behind the data is) abortion is frequently described as a "holocaust" with millions of victims.
The favorite talking point for anti-abortion arguments is the "late term abortion" or so-called "partial birth abortion," which fuels the grisly image of actual babies being killed by callused women and doctors for the sake of "convenience." And when you allow them to do so, people will conflate every one of the "millions" of abortions with those relatively rare "late term" cases.
It's hard to pin down actual numbers, but you may have seen this in the viral exchange between Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Chris Wallace:
"These aren't hypotheticals — there are 6,000 women a year who get an abortion in the third trimester," Wallace said.
"That's right, representing less than one percent of cases a year," Buttigieg replied.
That tracks with the generally accepted statistics that put the number of abortions from year to year at around 600,000 - but it's much harder to get information about what counts as "an abortion". The legal defintion is super broad:
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by various methods, including medical surgery, before the fetus is able to sustain independent life.
And that's where the grey area gets very large. Because "various methods" can be literally anything, and "before the fetus is able to sustain independent life" is up for debate, depending on the state of medical technology and the health of the fetus in question. Considering that as many as 43% of women report first trimester miscarriages, and that a large number of those would require medical surgery that would certainly be counted as "getting an abortion," it's a very bad faith argument to judge all of those unique situations as if they were all morally the same. As Sec. Buttigieg pointed out, by definition, mothers that far along in their pregnancy have decided to have a baby, and are expecting to give birth. The curve balls that biology can throw at someone are legion, and it is ghoulish and cruel to characterize the women who have to make the choice that late in the game as "murderers".
The vast majority of abortions do not fall into that narrow window, however, and it is also ghoulish and cruel to pretend that they do. Women who take birth control (even the so-called "abortifacient drugs") are not committing murders.
But maybe you still reject Pete Buttigieg's reasoning about how you should think about those 6,000 third trimester abortions, and you assume that all of the fetuses involved would have survived and thrived if only they had been given the chance. Maybe you want to call it murder to choose the mother's life over that of the child:
Trading lives isn't compulsory
It is not murder for me to refuse to donate an organ, or even something as simple as my blood, even though lives may depend on it. In the United States, your bodily autonomy is protected even after you die, meaning that unless you have identified yourself as an organ donor, no one can take any part of you - even if it means saving someone else's life.
That is true, even if your reasons for not saving that person's life are frivolous and shallow. Saying "I don't want to donate my blood to save hurrican victims in Florida because I can't stand their football team" makes you sound like a supreme jerk - but it does not make you a murderer.
In the same way, a woman who finds herself pregnant who does not want to be should not be compelled to "donate" her body to that fetus. And that is not murder.
Yeah. I guess that's the big question.
I doubt these arguments will convince anyone to change their mind - particularly in the heat of an internet battle. Oh, well.
But, maybe you're less of a die-hard "believer" and more of a thoughtful bystander. Maybe you've run across this line of reasoning for the first time, and it has given you food for thought.
My hope is that if you don't become an activist, organizing and fighting to preserve individual rights to privacy and sound medical advice during pregnancy, you will at least be aware that the people claiming the moral high ground do not actually have it. Be aware that this issue is about morality and justice, but just not the way it is advertised.
And maybe, at some point, you'll spread the word to someone else.