When dealing with contentious social ethics issues, sometimes all one can do is proclaim that certain things are wrong, end of story. It is nice if some practical measures can also be introduced into the mix, but sometimes a bottom line of resistance must at least be held. Consider the abortion debate for example.
Pro-abortionists often make plenty of silly and unhelpful remarks, such as, ‘this is a woman’s issue, and men cannot speak about it’. Slightly less silly but still problematic is the claim that unless someone is actually involved in helping pregnant women, then they have no right to condemn abortion.
I have even had religious folk run this line by me. They have told me that unless I am involved in actually helping a pregnant woman in their difficult situation, I have no right to speak out against abortion, and I should just shut up.
How is one to respond to such a claim? The short answer is ‘yes and no’.
Yes, in a sense this is fair enough. It is often not sufficient to simply tell a pregnant woman that abortion is wrong. It is not enough to simply denounce the evil of abortion, important as that is. What is also needed is for the pro-life camp to provide practical alternatives to abortion.
For example, if a frightened, pregnant 15-year-old girl comes to you and says, “My family has just kicked me out of the house and my boyfriend is demanding that I get an abortion,” it is not enough to simply tell her that abortion is wrong. We need to be able to say to that girl, “come to our community or church, we have a crisis pregnancy support home where you can stay. We’ll feed you, clothe you, shelter you, and when the baby is born, we can look at the options (adoption, keeping the baby, etc.).” Until the pro-life camp is able to provide real alternatives to the evil of abortion, it may lose the credibility, if not the right, to speak out against this evil.
And the truth is, many millions of pro-lifers around the world are up to their ears in very practical help for pregnant women. There are services and programs all around the world where pregnant women can go to for real help, counsel, support, protection, financial assistance and loving care.
Sure, there should be many more of these. But most often these programs are run on a voluntary basis, without any government funding. Often these are church-based works, or community projects, or volunteer efforts. Usually people are volunteering countless hours to these works, often at great personal sacrifice and expense.
Unfortunately most governments are not helping things very much in this regard. Western governments give billions of dollars away each year in providing abortion services and facilities, and various pro-abortion activities. But government funding for pro-life activities is very sparse indeed.
As an example of pro-lifers taking seriously the needs of women and offering support, see Frederica Mathewes-Green’s helpful 1994 book, Real Choices: Offering Practical, Life-Affirming Alternatives to Abortion (Multnomah). In it she points out the many needs pregnant women have, and how they are often being coerced into an abortion which they may not even want.
Indeed, this book is the result of numerous hearings held across the US to find out why women had abortions, and what their many needs are. The various reasons include: viewing adoption as too difficult; lack of partner or family support; lack of finances; interference with work or career, etc.
While none of these reasons alone can justify the death of an unborn child, they can be powerful motivational factors in a woman’s decision to go for an abortion. Mathewes-Green spends the rest of her book offering practical help and alternatives, so that these sorts of excuses become less common and viable.
That is a big challenge for the pro-life community: to get even more involved in such practical help, so that we can make it easier for women to say no to abortion and yes to life. It is not an easy job, and is often a thankless task, but it must be done.
Everything I just said above is certainly true and important. However, it is not the end of the story. There is another side to all of this. The simple truth is, if something is wrong, then we have a moral obligation to resist that which is wrong. We may or may not be able to be personally involved in offering all the practical help we can. But that does not change the fact that something radically wrong must still be resisted.
So the claim that one cannot speak out against something unless one is personally involved is misleading at best, and mischievous at worse. Consider a few obvious examples. Most of us may not be directly and/or practically involved in helping women who have been raped, or work in rape prevention programs. Does that mean for the majority of us we cannot therefore speak out against rape? Surely not. One might as well argue that a doctor cannot treat malaria, or work against it, unless he has first personally experienced it.
Consider another example. Many people might be thieves, robbers and home invaders because they need money for various reasons – perhaps to support a drug habit. But does it really make sense to say that we cannot speak out against theft unless we are personally involved in helping the drug addict? Is it really remiss of us to condemn home burglaries because we may not be doing all we can to help the home invader with whatever problems he or she is going through?
Or what about the prostitute? She may well have many needs in her life. Perhaps she was abused as a child, or rejected by her family. She may need money to support her own children. But does the fact that one is not directly helping her situation mean that one cannot stand up and declare prostitution to be morally wrong, and not something we should wish to promote?
Sure, in all of these situations, it is great if and when practical help is being administered. And countless Christians are doing just that: working in red-light districts, working with AIDS patients, working in slums, working with the dispossessed and marginalised, working with prisoners, and so on.
But one can hold high moral and social standards as well it seems. We can stand up for what is right, and resist that which is wrong. I, for example, am quite busy in the particular work that I do, so I am not directly helping prostitutes or pregnant women or drug addicts. But I have friends and colleagues who are involved.
While I cannot do the practical things they are doing, I am grateful for their work, and see their ministries as an extension of what I am doing. And while they may be too busy to stand up in the public arena and resist evil at that level, they are glad others – including myself – are doing just that. So we can complement one another in the various tasks we have been called to do.
Thus we need each other, and we all have a role to play in the many difficult social issues confronting our society. On the issue of abortion, we are dealing with a moral evil. It is always wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. Thus we must get the message out as to what abortion really is, and how it takes the life of any unborn baby.
But to learn about the abortion issue and to take a stand, while quite crucial, is only half the battle. In some sense we may well need to earn the right to speak out against it first. In some ways, as mentioned above, it certainly helps our credibility, and certainly gives us a firmer foundation to stand on, when we can demonstrate practical and loving alternatives to abortion.
It is hoped that everyone who speaks out against the horror of abortion is also involved in some way or another to make things easier for the pregnant woman, to provide some real alternatives. But that may not always be possible. We all have our role to play, and none of us can do it all.
So in a sense we do need to earn the right to speak out. And most pro-lifers have heroically been doing the hard yards here all along. They have not just protested outside of abortion clinics, or written letters to newspapers, but they have in a multitude of ways offered practical help, assistance, comfort and care for women considering an abortion.
In the same way the abolition movement of two centuries ago involved both the proclamation of the horrors of slavery, as well as practical help and support for slaves. And since many economies depended on the slave trade, thought also had to be given as to how slave owners and traders could find alternative – and ethical – incomes.
It was a difficult situation then, and it is a difficult situation today. There are no easy answers, and there is much work to be done on many fronts. We all must do our bit. Some will be called to simply speak out on the evil of abortion. That must be done. But others may be involved in hands-on practical service and support for women and their babies.
All such tasks are necessary. Thus to those who say I have no right to speak out on abortion because I am not personally involved in helping and supporting women in difficult circumstances, I say, ‘yes and no’.