My good friend Not Very Bright was on the story, but alas, Sunday was a work day for me, with two masses and a funeral. (No wedding, though. Pity.) Since my whining even annoys me, I’ll just do my job here, which is to bring a theological dimension to the discussion of politics.
When Senator Obama told The Rev. Rick Warren Saturday night that the moment at which an unborn child gets “human rights” involved making a decision that was “above my pay grade,” the Right took that as a confirmation that what they have been saying about him all along was true: he’s no Christian, because everyone knows that Christians believe that human rights begin at conception, just like the Bible says.
Only it doesn’t. You can’t make an argument for or against abortion from the Bible, any more than you can make an argument about human cloning or genetically modified wheat from the Bible. The Bible was never intended to be used as a talisman to determine the will of God on any subject. That’s what we have brains for.
So, knowing all that we do about human development in the womb, what is the answer to Rick Warren’s question? When do “human rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” begin? The traditional Jewish answer was “at birth” when the newborn took her first breath of the Spirit of life. But of course, we know that viability comes long before birth, and in the world of modern medicine, babies can survive after as few as 24 weeks of development.
But this really isn’t an argument about when life begins. It’s an argument about when a tragedy becomes a necessity. As a Christian, I believe that all life is sacred, even the life of an unborn child. Taking a life–or a potential life–is not to be done rashly, without regard to the consequences. Abortion is not an ethical form of birth control, nor a decision to be made without understanding that, yes, a life is being ended while another is being saved.
Ethical choices are hard precisely because it’s hard to make ethical choices. Everyone knows that murder is wrong, but sometimes we have to kill. Sometimes we have to go war. Sometimes we have to fight an attacker. Only the Creator of life has an absolute right to decide when life should end. But there are times, when, faced with good and evil, we have to choose. That doesn’t mean that our choice is heroic. In the case of abortion, it is always tragic.
I have counseled too many young men and women who made the tragic choice to end a pregnancy they were not prepared for. They were under no illusions as to what they were about to do. They weighed their future, gritted their teeth and made the choice. Every last one of them cried. I cried with them, because I felt their terror, their hopelessness, the breaking of their hearts. I would never suggest that a woman get an abortion. I would never condemn her for doing so.
It’s above my pay grade.