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When Right-Wing Christians Stopped Thinking of Women as People

You'd be surprised at Christian denominations' positions on abortion in the 1970s.

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Christians have a responsibility to limit the size of their families and to practice responsible birth control. . . . .where there is substantial reason to believe that the child would be deformed in mind or body, or where the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest . . . termination of pregnancy is permissible. -- Episcopal Church

 The status of the fetus is the key issue. That status is affected by consideration of the fact that it is the organic beginning of human life. Further, its status is defined by its stage of development, its state of well-being, and its prospects for a meaningful life after its birth.
--Lutheran Church in America

Human life develops on a continuum from conception to birth. At some point it may be regarded as more “personal” and higher in “quality.” At some undesignated time, the value of this life may actually outweigh competing factors; e.g., the vocational and social objectives of the family, etc. -- United Church of Christ

Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion. -- United Methodist Church

The artificial or induced termination of pregnancy is a matter of the careful ethical decision of the patient, her physician, and her pastor or other counselor and therefore should not be restricted by law . . . -- United Presbyterian Church

Today when we think of Christianity and abortion what comes to mind may be clinic picket lines; or “personhood” zealots who insist that microscopic fertilized eggs merit the same hard-won civil rights as walking, talking, thinking, breathing men and women and children; or even the fanatics who have now murdered eight doctors in the name of life.

The picture of Christianity revealed in  the 1978 study document is very different. Mind you, across the board we do see an ancient religious tradition that treats life as sacred and human life as the pinnacle of creation. Outside of Christianity, these are not points of universal agreement. A secularist might treat the loss of early embryonic life with pragmatic acceptance—more than half of fertilized eggs self-abort; human reproduction is a funnel designed so that lots of false starts produce a few healthy adult offspring.

Secular ethics and law concern themselves with the wellbeing of persons who can think and feel, who can actually desire life, liberty and happiness. A secularist might work to reduce abortions primarily because they are emotionally, financially or otherwise costly to conscious persons. By contrast, the Protestant voices represented here give pregnancy some of the same sacred weight it is given by their Catholic brethren, and so they find the termination of pregnancy, even in early stages, to be morally complex. Even so, they balance the value of embryonic life against other values they hold sacred:

Humility: “Philosophical uncertainties lasting over the centuries now appear in the form of disagreements among Christians who yet revere God’s call to life. . . . Our vision and understanding are limited, and Christ calls us to see our differences as a call to larger vision.”

Freedom: “Very near the center of the Christian life is Christ’s call to freedom, both in the inward form of our lives and our outward social structures.”

Justice: “Medical intervention should be made available to all who desire and qualify for it, not just to those who can afford preferential treatment.”

 
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