Pro-lifers have been in the news quite a lot recently, firstly with the Melbourne Fertility Clinic and its failed bid to have anti-choice protesters stopped from harassing patients and staff. Then last weekend Troy Newman, head of US pro-life organisation Operation Rescue, was barred from entering Australia after a Member of Parliament raised concerns that his extremism “would cause significant harm to our community.” Mr. Newman was due to begin a national speaking tour for Right to Life Australia in Melbourne on Friday night, but had his visa revoked by the Immigration Department and has since been deported.
While I am not for abortion in any and every situation, I believe it is an issue that needs a compassionate, well thought through Christian response. I find myself struggling with some of the message and method of pro-life groups. Here are four questions that I’m asking myself about this:
1. Are they pro-life or pro-birth?
In other words, is a pro-life person anti-abortion and FOR the birth of every baby? If so, are they doing anything to support the mother’s choice to keep the baby if she decides not to go ahead with an abortion? If not, they are pro-birth and not pro-life.
While affirming the Roman Catholic Church’s pro-life stance, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation of 2013 recognised the importance of not simply being pro-birth, “On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” It’s a great question.
People that want babies to be born but don’t lift a finger to help them or their parents are just like the religious people Jesus condemned, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). If we’re really pro-life we need to offer far more than rhetoric, demonstrations, marches or counseling. We need to role up our sleeves with practical help and finance and lift more than a finger to help out.
In their defense, The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (the group that protests outside the Melbourne Fertility Clinic) do offer help to women who decide not to abort. But a quick Google search shows numerous reports of harassment from the protesters. One woman who was supporting a friend says, “I walked with them past protestors outside a termination clinic. It was threatening and intimidating. Abortion is a difficult decision without the pressure of strangers, some whose intentions are malevolent.” Another woman was told not to get an abortion to which she replied, “I’ve got cancer!” That didn’t seem to subdue the protesting group though.
2. Are they pro the life of women too?
While I believe we should certainly be concerned for unborn babies, we should equally be compassionately concerned for women who, for whatever reason, find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion law reform campaigner Professor Lachlan de Crespigny puts it this way, ‘‘these are incredibly vulnerable women. They might be victims of incest or domestic violence; they may have gone through a traumatic marital breakup or the death of their partner; they could be drug-addicted or people who just presented late, not knowing they were pregnant; or young girls hiding their pregnancy.”
According to Emily’s Voice, 97% of abortions are performed to protect the psychosocial (mental, emotional and social) health of the mother.
International research shows women will still seek abortion, even if it is illegal. Surely we don’t want to return to the days of backyard abortions? Do pro-lifers really want that? If not, what is their solution?
3. Are they pro-life in other areas of life?
One of the contradictions I’ve noticed with some pro-lifers is that they advocate for saving babies while also supporting capital punishment and the right to bear arms. A statement regarding Troy Newman declared he “has never advocated violence against abortion providers or facilities and has instead adamantly encouraged pro-life activists to work through the legal, legislative, and justice systems to bring abortionists who are breaking the law and harming women to justice.” Mr. Newman said he had been misquoted and yet in his book, “Their Blood Cries Out,” he states, “In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people … The innocent blood of the New Covenant in Christ has the power to atone for all the innocent bloodshed from the beginning of time to the end, and to purify the whole earth — the land. Rejecting that innocent blood is to reject the only standard that is effective against innocent bloodshed, excluding the lawful execution of the murderers, which is commanded by God in Scripture.”
While the Hebrew Scriptures do command the execution of murderers, they also command the execution of children who curse their parents (Leviticus 20:9); a woman who displeases her husband because she can’t prove she was a virgin when they married (Deuteronomy 22:13-20); and a person who works on the Sabbath Day (Exodus 31:14). It’s interesting to note that God gave mercy to the first murderer, Cain, and Jesus did the same for the woman caught in adultery. For more on this read my blog, Why the death penalty is wrong.
4. Are they concerned about the damage they do to the Christian faith?
Pro-life protesters that continuously and openly harass and intimidate patients and staff, including blocking footpaths, following them, shouting at them, taking photos and videos, and even striking them, hardly give Christians a good name. David Kinnaman in his book Unchristian put it this way, “Many outsiders … believe Christians have a right (even an obligation) to pursue political involvement, but they disagree with our methods and our attitudes … they claim we act and say things in an unchristian manner; they wonder whether Jesus would use political power as we do; and they are concerned that we overpower the voices of other groups.”
For this reason the Church is often seen as conservative and negative. We become known for all that we’re against rather for what we stand for. The church is often perceived as being “anti from a distance” without compassionately listening to people’s stories or engaging with them. We also become known for focusing on one or two issues (gay marriage and abortion) while ignoring other issues completely, such as the plight of the poor, the homeless and the asylum seeker, care of the environment, adoption and foster care for children in need, the predicament of the persecuted church (and other religions) and fighting for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.
Christians need to learn to engage in the right way. We are called to share the good news of forgiveness, mercy and grace through Jesus: “Keep in mind that politics only gets you so far. You change people’s lives most deeply by transforming their hearts, by helping them embrace a passionate, thoughtful, personal connection to Jesus.” (David Kinnaman)
Our actions should be merciful, respectful, gentle and careful especially towards those whose opinion is different to ours. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Jesus put it this way: “In everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). That would be a great start for pro-lifers!