18 June 2018

Is Pro-Life Anti-Choice?

If you were about make a huge decision which you can never change, you will never forget and has life or death implications for someone else - would you want to be sure you were making the right choice? Would you want as much information as possible? And if you are under intense time pressure and social pressure to act now, how would you know you were making the best decision?

Under laws passed last week in our state parliament, that decision just became a little harder. The new bill bans ‘protesters’ who intimidate, harass or film people within 150 metres of clinics or hospitals that provide terminations. It also excludes any form of communication around alternative choices to abortion in the exclusion zone. Those caught face heavy fines and jail time even.

Now I’m all for prohibiting the intimidation and harassment of anyone at all, let alone vulnerable women about face to such an awful, invasive medical procedur. And there is no justifying any guilt laden, ‘wrath of God’ tactics that leave a person feeling any more condemnation than they already feel. That to me is psychological and spiritual abuse.

But is this the whole picture? Interestingly the current and former Ministers in the portfolio of Women’s Affairs both voted against the bill. The Minister for Women, Tanya Davies, refused to vote for the bill on the basis that it allows for no distinction between intimidating protesters and ‘sidewalk counsellors’ that offer pastoral support and information to women. Pru Goward, the minister for Family and Community Services, rejected the bill because of its fundamental departure from the right a person has to free speech (and this is a red-hot issue constantly surfacing in our social landscape since the same sex marriage debate of last year).

I suspect the majority of Christians fundamentally believe in the sacredness of life from an early point of gestation because we read classic passages in our scriptures like Psalm 139 like “you knit me together in my mother’s womb”, “your eyes saw my unformed body” and we can’t not ascribe worth and dignity to the life growing within the mother. We rejoice with those who announce they are expecting and weep with those who miscarry. Why? Because in our simplistic understanding, the life inside the mother is exactly that, a life “fearfully and wonderfully (being) made.”

But we also recognise the dignity of the woman carrying the child. This is her body also, and there is an inseparable connection between her life and the new life within her. We feel a sense of awe and wonder for the mother who is now pregnant with new life - a miraculous and sacred thing is happening to her.

So how do you honour both the sacredness of the child’s life and the mothers?

I think women (and their partners) need both a medical and an ethical perspective in their decision-making process. They also need help with social, psychological and economic support to best aid their decision. I wonder if the hospital or the clinic can provide that? How do people make these massive decisions? And who can ask them to consider not only what their rights are, but also what might their obligations be?

Without question the first priority is preserving the life of the woman without whom there can be no child. But does the child have any rights at all? And who determines when those rights kick in - when theoretical life becomes practical life? Is it reasonable to end the child’s life because of say, inconvenience? Would that be acceptable at the other end of life when a person is too old and frail to be cared for by the family?

There appears to be very little good data on this issue. Most states don’t keep detailed records on terminations or reasons for the procedure - perhaps such information would be too confronting. A Royal Women’s Hospital report published in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that of the 3018 women seeking terminations between October 2006 and September 2007, 80% were for reasons of poor timing or other life factors (excluding significant hardship 19% or rape 1% rape). These figures tend to correlate with other minor pieces of Australian research however after consulting with two medical professionals in preparation for this article, they advised that these figures may not be adequately encompassing of medically recommended terminations such as in cases where there is a genetic problem in the foetus or a life-threatening outcome for the mother (such as ectopic pregnancy where the foetus is developing outside the uterus). Note also that this report is 10 years old.

For years I’ve been pondering this issue but have never articulated it. I find it really hard to disregard the humanity and personhood of an unborn child on emotional, theological or scientific grounds. This is perhaps shaped by our own experience of miscarriage and the lingering grief and loss that has never fully disappeared.

Embryologists have no doubt we are dealing with a human being from the earliest days after implantation of the fertilised egg (blastocyte). As one medical professional advised me, that moment of implantation (which only occurs in maybe 20% of fertilised eggs) is the critical moment when new life is not only possible but viable. Similarly, Dr Meghan Best (watch here), contends that after implantation the life quickly becomes a ‘unified, unique, dynamic, self-directed whole human being.’ And given the foetus is fully formed at 12 weeks with just the growing to do, I can’t get my head around the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 which allows for ‘the provision of abortion on request by a qualified medical practitioner, nurse or pharmacist if a woman is less than 24 weeks pregnant; after 24 weeks a second practitioner must agree the termination is in the patient’s best interest for an abortion to be lawfully performed.’

24 weeks! 

The grand irony today is that we spend countless millions of dollars on the latest medical technology keeping wanted children alive in utero or when born premature, but terminate tens of thousands of unwanted children. Or that a mother can elect to have a termination but if that same termination happened against her will, say in the case of John Andrew Weldon who tricked his partner into taking ‘misoprostol’ (Ru-486) killing the 6-week-old child, that was considered a criminal offence.

I realise this is a highly complex and deeply personal issue that is perhaps too painful, too awkward or too controversial to deal with. I hardly feel qualified to write anything on this topic and I accept this may to be offensive and painful to others who have been in through this. But if our convictions don’t at times draw us into contentious places, I wonder if they really are convictions after all. 

As a pastor, I’ve conducted several funerals for devastated parents who have lost premature and full term children. These little lives are not just significant because their parents thought so, or wanted them. No, they are significant because they are human beings, miraculous creations formed in the likeness of their biological parents and bearing the blueprints of a divine creator. 

Where to from here? I don’t really know. But I take comfort in that same divine creator, Jesus -
    Through whom all things were made and have their being.
    Himself born in flesh, who said ‘let the little children come to me.’
    And at the end of days declares ‘I am making all things new.’

That Jesus has infinite capacity and longing to redeem anyone He knows, regardless of age. And equally that Jesus has infinite grace for our darkest days, our greatest heartaches and deepest regrets. That whatever our experience in this sad story, our next chapter need never be shame or condemnation – but forgiveness, redemption and new life.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!
Revelation 21:3-5