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Unbelief Regarding Divine Providence Undermines Moral Judgment on Abortion

by Lawren Guldemond

Disclaimer: Faith Beyond Belief supports dialogue on bioethical issues such as abortion. As such, an alternative perspective to this thoughtful post will be published in the near future, a perspective which may differ on all or some points. Please remember that in dialogues such as this not everything argued within a given post will be the official position of Faith Beyond Belief.

I’ve noticed something about the public discourse on the immorality of abortion. It’s a pattern that has been persistent across the span of many decades. Nearly all of the people involved in the pro-life movement are Christians, of one stripe or another. However, most of the arguments they present to the public are non-religious, and not dependent on religious foundations. They typically build upon medical facts to demonstrate that the unborn child is a distinct human life, and appeal to a common-sense moral recognition that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. It is a case designed to engage and persuade secular people with secular arguments, while leaving religious principles out because secular people would object to them as illegitimate. Pro-lifers expend a lot of effort trying to convert secular pro-abortion people into secular pro-life people. 

Now, here’s the critical observation: in spite of decades of pro-life activism presenting the case in terms that could be considered and accepted without requiring any acceptance of religious tenets or principles, the reality is still that strong, unequivocal pro-life views remain largely confined to Christian communities. Pro-lifers have had very little success convincing people who are not Christians to recognize that it is wrong to abort an unborn child. This pattern has led me to ponder why Christian faith causes so many people to embrace the pro-life position, and why so few who lack such faith ever become convinced that the pro-life case is right. My verdict is that faith in God inspires the courage to admit and do what is right, in spite of daunting implications, while unbelief induces people to do and justify what is wrong, for fear of the future.

Before I explain my contemplations on how faith in God affects a person’s views on the morality of abortion, I should state some presuppositions which provide the requisite framework for what I will go on to say:

1.   The pro-life case against abortion is correct. Abortion is morally wrong, and this is a universal moral precept. 

2.   The pro-life case against abortion is sound on strictly secular terms. The medical and biological facts of fetal development clearly establish the humanity of the fetus. It is human. And our common sense of morality tells us that humans should not kill other humans. The simple logic is sound, and anyone should be able to recognize this on these grounds alone, without any religious influence being needed.

3.   The ultimate reason that so many people do not admit that abortion is wrong is not due to a failure of logic; it is due to a failure of morality. The moral unwillingness to admit that abortion is wrong spawns the denial of the truth and the concomitant justification of abortion.

Given points 1 & 2, we should expect everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, to admit that abortion is wrong. Many deny this, as is noted in point 3. Furthermore, the denial of the immorality of abortion is strongly correlated with an absence of Christian faith.[i]From this arises the question that I have been contemplating: what is it that makes people without faith in Christ forsake the right and true verdict that abortion is wrong? What is at the root of it?

A person’s view on abortion is inextricably connected to their level of trepidation about the future. People endorse abortion because they fear what might happen to the future of a woman’s life if she is denied the option of abortion. Having an abortion enables a woman to alter the course of her future, and keeps her options open. A significantly different future will result if she does not have an abortion and instead allows the pregnancy to culminate in childbirth. Childbirth inaugurates decades of duty and responsibility for her, and the man responsible. Parenthood brings great financial responsibilities, absorbs all your free time, restricts your liberty to travel, and dominates your daily schedule. In most families, these duties and constraints fall more heavily on the mother. In many, they fall entirely on the mother, because the father is absent. For those who are not prepared, having a child may disrupt and ruin their plans for their life. These facts of life are the same for Christians and non-Christians alike. However, Christians and non-Christians reach very different conclusions about whether abortion is a permissible way to resolve the dilemma of a pregnancy that seems to jeopardize their future prospects.[ii]And what does the future hold? Will it be good, or ill? That depends on God—whether He exists, and is good, and whether He controls the future. Although there are many different reasons and considerations that lead different people to hold different stances on abortion, I contend that the chief overriding factor is one’s view of God—His existence, His goodness, and His providence.

For those who do not believe in the existence, the goodness, and the providential governance of God, the future is random and therefore open to going horribly wrong. Since there will be no divine intervention to keep the future on a good course, it requires human intervention. For those who face an unwanted pregnancy and predict that having the child would ruin the future of their life, abortion is the one great intervention they can make to alter the course of their life and steer it away from the bleak future that they foresee. I have observed that this consideration often trumps the most impeccable pro-life arguments for the humanity of the fetus and sanctity of its life. In short, the root of pro-abortion thinking is the resolution that it doesn’t matter if the fetus is human and it would otherwise be wrong to kill it; they are convinced that allowing an unfortunate pregnancy to culminate in childbirth will ruin the future of the woman’s life, and therefore it is imperative that the pregnancy be terminated. Even though the fetus is a human child, it must die in order to rescue the woman’s future from catastrophe. Being convinced in their hearts that it must be done, they devise arguments to dehumanize the unborn child and justify its elimination. This, I contend, is why fifty years of pro-life efforts to convince society that the fetus is a precious human life, which must be preserved, have failed to convince those who do not believe in the existence of a good God who governs the future.

For those who do believe in the existence, the goodness, and the providential governance of God, the future may look harrowing, but there is help and therefore also hope. Though it may appear that an unfortunate pregnancy will ruin the future of a woman’s life, human intervention by abortion is not the only way to avert a catastrophic personal future. The elimination of the unborn child is not the only way that the future can be salvaged. God can and God does bring good things out of our hardships. He bestows blessings through parenthood. He controls the future, and He can save our lives from ruin, without us taking the recourse of killing an unborn child. Fending off the confining duties of parenthood is not a prerequisite for having a good future. Those who know these things and are sure of them understand that the unborn child does not have to die in order to make the future bearable. They can accept and admit the truth that the fetus is a precious human life and it is wrong to kill it. They do not feel the need to have the option to kill it, so they don’t need to deny the truth of its humanity, because there is a God, and He is good, and He controls the future; therefore, there is no need to kill unborn children to save our own futures.

[ii]           Notwithstanding the significant number of Christians and churches who endorse abortion to a greater or lesser degree, I assert that the only legitimate Christian position on abortion is to oppose it. I grant room for differences of opinion in cases of grave danger to the mother’s life, but in the vast majority of cases this is not a factor and there should be no question: abortion is wrong and Christians should recognize this.