It is not at all surprising to me that I received push back on my post Pro-Life Values and a Pro-Choice President. I completely expected the typical comments from people identifying as pro-choice saying I was pushing my values on them and pro-life individuals saying I was ignoring abortion. I do not think either of these claims are accurate so I respond as politely as I can and move on. However, there was one comment which I forced me to think through the issue a little more (I’m proud to say it came from a cousin). He simply pointed out that while I dealt with the practical elements I never dealt with the concept of justice and for him abortion issues are not simply about saving lives but actually establishing justice. I think this is a commendable ethic; and though my initial post was designed to help people see a practical way to work with people across political differences, I feel I should respond to the issue of justice under a pro-choice administration.
I begin by asking, what does justice mean for the unborn? Is it simply to be born? Or is it to be born into a situation where there is potential to happy, successful, & righteous life? Too often I think pro-life advocates think justice for the unborn is to draw breath, or put another way, justice is the legal right to experience birth and life. Please bear with me for a minute, but we can understand somewhat this idea of justice by looking at the history of the pro-life movement which began in 1979 with the Moral Majority. Randall Balmer wrote an excellent article on the founding of the Moral Majority and the pro-life movement (here). But one need only look at the fact that it was founded to remove Jimmy Carter and install Ronald Reagan as president to give one serious questions. Why would Christians want to remove one of the most outspokenly Christian presidents we have ever had instead of forming a group to petition him and work with him to mitigate abortion? The short answer is because the group was the brain child of a lobbyist who wanted evangelicals in the pocket of the Republican Party? This means justice was never really at the heart of the movement, justice for the unborn was the carrot in front of the nose of Evangelicals. And because justice was simply a carrot, justice came to be defined as defending a person’s legal right to biological life.
The idea of justice which was presented to Falwell, Jones, and the rest in 1979 was a simplistic construct, “Let’s overturn a singular immoral court decision and the world will be right because children will be protected.” My ultimate issue with this frame of mind is that “legal” and “justice” are not synonyms. On one hand we can all accept this idea, for people calling themselves pro-life it looks like this, “making abortion legal does not make it just.” But there is a second dimension which pro-life individuals talk about less often, “making abortion illegal does not mean justice has been accomplished.”
For me justice is not simply a legal right to life; rather, justice is defined as:
A community living in harmony with one another and with God, governed in such a way where no one is excluded.
I realize that such a society probably will not exist, it is unrealistic to expect humanity to achieve this level of unity. However, when I establish this type of justice as my goal I can easily recognize that simply making abortion illegal does not truly provide justice for the unborn. I liken this to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:1-4
The pharisees in this passage were making legal decisions for people, decisions which made the lives of ordinary working people much harder, while not impacting the pharisees own daily lives. Fighting to overturn abortion on legal grounds while not seeking to improve the lives of the families impacted by this decision puts us in the place of the pharisees– making the lives of others more difficult without adding any burden to ourselves. Rather than seeking to simply criminalize something we should carry the burden of love for our neighbors; this is justice. As John says:
All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 1 John 3:15-18
In my previous article I talked of practical steps to helping to end abortion, and I want to invite you now to consider how improving healthcare, education, and job opportunities for people can create an overall more just society for those entering the world. I ask you to consider how spending time and attention on women who are considering terminating a pregnancy can show her love (and the most Godlike of us would continue to show her love even if she terminates the pregnancy). Consider how simply fighting to criminalize abortion can actually create distance between us and those most in need of our love, mercy, compassion, and justice. Fighting to criminalize abortion without understanding the women & families going through the decision, makes us look like we only care about the baby until it is born.
Criminalizing abortion does not mean justice has been accomplished, far from it. We have a foster system which cannot keep up with current demand, which would undoubtedly see an influx of children. Women would begin searching how to preform at home abortions, which, when carried out, would no doubt leave children permanently disabled. Not to mention the potential of added stress to public assistance programs. In short our society is not sound enough to make abortion illegal and still provide justice for the unborn. The type of justice outlined by the pro-life lobby is a pharisee’s justice which will collapse under the burden of society. We must seek a more holistic justice which provides true care and inclusion for all– including the unborn. Pro-life people seem to think that as long as children enter this world they bear no responsibility for how those children grow up. In reality we bear a huge responsibility for the society we create. Can we please stop focusing on the legalities and start creating the society which will improve people’s lives.