Abortion: choice or life?

For several years the Adventist Church has had a committee wrestling with the abortion question. It has now formulated a suggested statement which will be presented to the 1992 Annual Council. Should the church vote a statement? What authority should it have?

J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

Abortion is one of the most contentious is sues in the United States and in other countries around the world. The United States Supreme Court in a just released decision declined to overthrow the historic 1973 Wade versus Roe decision, which made abortion legal throughout the United States.

Many people take passionate stands on both sides of the issue even among Christians. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not immune to these pressures. The Adventist Church had never taken a stand on abortion but in 1971 in response to pressure from Adventist hospitals it developed a set of five semiofficial guidelines to guide hospitals in setting their own abortion policies. However, guideline number five when for some reason the requirements of functional human life demand the sacrifice of the lesser potential human value was so broad that many felt it opened the door to abortion on demand.

Statement on abortion

For several years the Adventist Church has had a committee wrestling with the abortion question. It has now formulated a suggested statement which will be presented to the 1992 Annual Council. Should the church vote a statement? What authority should it have?

Many feel that the church should keep out of the debate and leave it up to each individual to make up his or her mind. Others feel that churches exist to help guide their members and society on moral issues.

Some fault the Roman Catholic Church for not taking a stand against Hitler and his pogrom of the Jews. Churches took a stand against slavery and added their voices to bringing about important social change.

So what should the Adventist Church do? Maybe it could learn from how it has treated government relationships and noncombatancy. The 1954 Annual Council of the General Conference took the following action:

"Genuine Christianity manifests itself in good citizenship and loyalty to civil government. The breaking out of war among men in no way alters the Christian's supreme allegiance and responsibility to God or modifies his obligation to practice his beliefs and put God first.

"The partnership with God through Jesus Christ, who came into this world not to destroy men's lives but to save them, causes Seventh-day Adventists to take a noncombatant position, following their divine Master in not taking human life, but rendering all possible service to save it. In their accepting the obligation of citizen ship, as well as its benefits, their loyalty to government requires them to serve the state in any noncombatant capacity, civil or military, in war or peace, in uniform or out of it, which will contribute to saving life, asking only that they may serve in those capacities which do not violate their conscientious convictions."

Now this action is not a policy statement or a rigid position binding all church members. Rather, it states a principle giving guidance but leaving the individual member free to make his or her own decision. The church states the ideal but does not discipline members if they do not live up to the ideal.

Middle ground

I believe that a middle ground in the abortion debate would be to follow the same practice as we did for noncombatancy. Let us state the ideal that we as Christians are for life rather than against life, but that leaves the choice of how to implement the ideal to each individual.

One aspect of the abortion debate is rarely discussed. Usually we get into arguments as to when life begins, and since there is no consensus, we shrug our shoulders and say that we cannot condemn abortion. But consider this point. We would not kill a premature baby as soon as it is born, but if it is still in the womb, then it can be terminated. How is the baby different now that it is born than it was just a few minutes before? It certainly is just as dependent on others as it was before birth. It may now communicate with an audible cry whereas before it was a silent scream, but in essence it is no different.

Life a priority

We argue over what should take priority life or choice, but if there is no life, then there can be no choice. I have to be alive in order to be able to choose. And if I could choose would I choose abortion for myself? We are not free to choose every thing we want. We must all accept some restrictions on our freedoms. We are not even allowed to kill ourselves.

Now, I realize that questions are raised about rape, incest, abnormalities, finances, quality of life, etc. And there is no doubt that our sinful world poses many dilemmas. That is why Christians need an anchor point when it comes to issues of the beginning and the ending of life. Since only God can give life, it behooves us to be very careful how quickly we are willing to take away that life.

The cross reveals how much God is concerned about life. Jesus sacrificed His life that we might be able to choose life. Should not we also be prepared to sacrifice to save the life of the unborn? But even more, our churches should provide financial, emotional, and physical support to those families who decide to keep the child. It is not enough to be against some thing; we must also be for something.

Thus I believe that the church should make a statement giving a high value to life (abortion only when the life of the mother is at stake) but leave it up to each individual as to how he or she will practice that ideal, just as the church has done on the noncombatancy issue.

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J. David Newman is the former editor of Ministry

September 1992

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