Friday, May 17, 2019

What Motivates A Pro-life Stance?

What motivates a pro-life stance? I ask myself this as the abortion issue once again takes center stage. Let’s consider the possibilities.

A ruling against abortion affects women more than men for obvious reasons. We might expect that difference to point to a disagreement on the issue between genders. That’s not significantly so. Women are not pro-choice, on average, much more than men. However, the characteristic that is predictive of a person’s stance on abortion is religiosity. Believers tend to be pro-life more often than nonbelievers. Surprising no one, this probably fits with your anecdotal evidence.

So what it is about religion that makes people pro-life? To limit confounding factors, let’s focus on the faith most relevant to America–Christianity. Christians believe abortion is a sin and unforgiven sins lead to hell. This should be enough for them to want to make abortion illegal, right? Not so fast. There are a lot of sins and, for most Christian denominations, they are all equivalent in their weight on the soul. Murder is as bad as stealing or even lying. Catholics have a category called “mortal sins” in which abortion is included…but so are many other actions that are legal. Why do Christians put so much time into ending abortions compared to ending divorce or premarital sex (both “mortal sins”)?

I think the answer has to lie in the quality Christians believe abortion share with other illegal activities–its affect a non-consenting second party. Stealing, rape, and murder are all sins made illegal because they hurt someone else who did not necessarily want to engage in said sin. The same is true for abortion under the assumption that the unborn is “someone else.” So is this the hang up for believers? I’m not so sure. If it is, why do believers assign personhood to embryos and fetuses when nonbelievers often do not? The best distinction is perhaps the assumption that a soul is created or is otherwise linked to cells at conception. I say assumption because the soul, of course, cannot be detected. The soul as a real thing is a belief taught consistently in Christianity and has biblical foundations. What isn’t biblical, to the best of my knowledge, is that the soul is tied to conception. There is no reason a Christian could not believe the soul starts at birth as easily as one could believe it starts after parental sex. When tissue goes from being soulless to soulful seems to be an arbitrary distinction.

I suppose without it being outlined in scripture, Christians are left to guess when the soul is in play and conception is as good a place as any. We are left with legislation that will severely alter the course of the country over a guess…about a soul for which there is no evidence. Welcome to America.

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