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Losing The Abortion Battle But Winning The War!

March 7, 1993 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Romans 12:14-21

Always when I preach, I step into the pulpit with a measurable sense of trepidation. Today that sense of trepidation is higher than usual because I am about to tackle what may be the most divisive issue of our time—the issue of abortion.

But before I speak to the issue, let me acknowledge my own biases. I want you to know where I stand even while I plead with you to listen to what I am trying to say beyond my personal opinions on this issue. In the first place, my very maleness makes it awkward for me to address an issue which affects men only indirectly. I want, therefore, to try to speak with special sensitivity toward those who are women. Also, I must tell you here at the outset that I am opposed to abortion for one very personal reason. The three Edington children are all adopted. They were, thank God, born before 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand. Had those children been conceived but a few years or a few months later, they most certainly would have been aborted—and I must tell you this world would be much the poorer without those wonderful kids of mine. So now that you know where I stand personally, let me address this issue from a larger perspective.

It began in the summer of 1969 in Dallas, Texas. The young woman was 25 years old at the time. She reported to the police that she had been raped, that she was pregnant as a result, and that she wanted an abortion. In Dallas, Texas, in 1969, that was illegal. Some people, aware of her circumstances, encouraged her to take the matter to court. She agreed provided she could remain anonymous. She was given the name Jane Roe. For the next four years the case was pursued, appealing all the way to the Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973, the Court ruled in that case of Roe v. Wade that abortion on demand was a viable policy for our nation. Ironically enough, some fifteen years later, we learned that Jane Roe—her real name is Norma McCorvy—had not been raped at all. She had become pregnant by much more normal means. Yet now, 20 years and 30 million abortions later, this issue has become galvanized into warring camps: the so-called “pro-choice movement” which favors abortion and the so-called “pro-life movement” which opposes abortion. The Africans have a saying that “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” Such is the case with this bitterly contested issue. Opinions on both sides have become hard, even hostile, in their expressions. Extremists on both sides have engaged in battle, and as a result to some extent the truth has been trampled.

Today then, out of my love for Christ, for His church, for this nation and for our families, I confront this issue not with an eye toward creating discord, but rather toward finding the way to healing and harmony. I call to those on both sides of the issue to cease the name-calling, the hostility, and the bitterness—and instead to substitute mutual respect and serious Christian moral deliberation. I am very very much aware of the fact that what I am about to say to you will draw the wrath of extremists on both sides of the issue. But that is all right with me, because I am just naive enough and just Christian enough to believe that we can overcome even the deepest of divisions by finding the great unity that faith in Jesus Christ affords. Besides, it is my observation of human history that extremists of any issue may elevate issues to public attention, but they do not change societies. Jesus, while surrounded by parties of the extreme, was no extremist Himself, yet He has accounted for more change in this world than anyone who ever lived. Jesus never set out to destroy those who opposed Him—instead He sought to win them and heal them with His love.

We see the same pattern in the great Apostle Paul, when he wrote to the Christians in Rome. They, too, were engaged in bitter, divisive debates about the moral issues of the day. But Paul called them to a different approach. He said: “Bless one another and do not curse each other…live in harmony…be fair…do not be conceited with your own wisdom…do not try to overcome evil by being more evil…overcome evil with good.” I would echo his words. I am calling for less confrontation and more conversation, less force and more forgiveness, less heat and more warmth. You see, I have come to the conclusion that if the extremists on both sides lose the abortion battle, we just may win the war over this tragic, divisive, destructive issue. It is my intent then to appeal to those who claim to be pro-choice and to those who claim to be pro-life, and I shall alternate between the two as we proceed.

If you claim to be Christian and pro-choice, then I appeal to you to acknowledge the beginning of life.

Too often, those advocates of the pro-choice position argue that human life begins at birth, or perhaps at the point of viability, and they tend to gloss over the truth by employing euphemisms for abortion like “evacuating the womb.” That is slippery and shoddy thinking. Science tells us quite conclusively that life begins at the moment of conception. Science tells us that the zygote, the fertilized egg, is a unique cell unlike any other in the woman’s body. In fact it is so different that the woman’s immune system actually attacks the zygote as a foreign body. Science tells us that from the genetic information contained in the zygote the sex, the eye color, the hair color, and myriad of other details about the person are already determined. Science tells us that twelve days after fertilization the neural system begins to develop; after 18 days the fetus has its own heartbeat; after 40 days it has measurable brain waves; after 60 days it has hands, feet, toes, and a developed brain. Everything which makes us human is there. It is distinct from the mother, not a part of her body, but simply housed in her “pre-natal intensive care unit”.

Even more important than what science tells us is what Scripture tells us—that from the moment of conception, the resulting fetus is made in the image of God. It bears the stamp of God’s creative handiwork. Therefore it can’t be denied the dignity which belongs to any child of God. I applaud those who stand for women’s rights and who declare that women are never to be regarded as possessions or pieces of property—I applaud that but I also appeal to them to apply the same logic to an unborn child. That pre-born life cannot be treated as a piece of property. Let me put it this way: if it is wrong to abort a child in the last three months of pregnancy, then isn’t it equally wrong one day before the last trimester begins? If it is right to take the life of a child not yet born, then why is it wrong to take the life of a child after birth? These questions, it seems to me, demand more consideration than most pro-choice people are giving them. As Christians we can do better than that.

Now if you claim to be Christian and pro-life, I appeal to you to acknowledge the pain of choice.

Put yourself in the place of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. Sometimes it can be catastrophic. Many find themselves abandoned by the man responsible for their pregnancies. Others are thrown out of their homes by enraged parents. Some face poverty and the real fear of being unable to care for the child. Many face the stigma of unwed motherhood. Pain, helplessness, shame, dread and fear frequently form the mix out of which an abortion decision arises. For us as Christians to fail to recognize, respect, and respond to those pressures is sinful. Abortion on demand is wrong in my opinion, but abortion can be limited to life-or-health threatening circumstances only when we deal with the reasons for the demand.

President Clinton aroused the ire of the pro-life forces with his executive order on abortion. But I want you to hear what he said on that occasion: “The goal is that abortion shall be safe, legal, and rare.” The operative word there is “rare.” The word implies an effort to alleviate the problems which lead to abortions. That is a worthy goal and I believe it is one for which we can hold our President accountable.

Furthermore, it is one we ought to help him to accomplish. It is past time—way, way past time—that we went after the factors in our society which lead to unwanted pregnancies. But it is also past time that we look with kindness, compassion, and support upon those who find themselves in such painful circumstances. From us as Christians, they should receive not condemnation, but compassion.

If you’re going to say you are Christian and pro-choice, then BE pro-choice.

Let the term “pro-choice” mean what it says and say what it means. Be in favor of giving a woman with an unwanted pregnancy a true choice. Many people are under the impression that all abortion clients receive thorough, unbiased counseling prior to the procedure. Not so. Less than 40% of abortion clinics give more than perfunctory counsel to clients, less than 1/3 even mention the option of adoption, and more than half of the information then given is wrong.It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to expect the abortion facilities would present the clients with the level of information doctors usually give a patent before, say, a gall bladder operation. Surely women ought to be told of the potential complications from an invasive medical procedure like abortion—that abortion carries with it a 200 percent increase in the risk of miscarriage in future pregnancies, that the cervix can be torn or stretched, that the uterus can be perforated, that infection is not uncommon after abortion, and that a painful, chronic condition called pelvic inflammatory disease is on the rise as a result of abortion.

And surely it is not unreasonable to make the person seeking an abortion aware of the possibility that later on guilt may become a deep emotional problem and that methods for dealing with the guilt be examined. And surely adequate counsel about the options of adoption ought to be offered. There may be unwanted pregnancies, but there are not unwanted children. Not long ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that there are more than a million families in this country who want to adopt children. So I appeal to pro-choice people to be willing to give to persons needing abortions the whole story so that they can then make a wise, informed, and enlightened choice.

If you are going to say you’re Christian and pro-life, then BE pro-life.

Let the term “pro-life” mean what it says and say what it means. Be encouraging of life—all if its manifestations, not just unborn children. I like what Jay Kesler, the President of Youth for Christ, said. He said: “I am desperately concerned for those unborn embryos who are being aborted, and the value of their lives, but I am also desperately concerned about eight-year-old embryos who are starving to death, and the value of their lives.” The inestimable value of human life must be understood in its full scope, not just in reference to the issue of abortion. So I appeal to pro-life Christians to get involved in the larger “life” issues of our time as well.

And I appeal to you to reject violent words and actions in support of your position. Do not call people who have had abortions “murderers.” Murder is the act of killing a person with malice aforethought. Abortion is almost always an act of desperation, maybe confusion, but not malice—the person who submits to an abortion has taken a life but she has not committed murder. Make no mistake about it, violent words and acts of hostility directed at those on the other side are a denial of our Christian faith—and God will not look with favor upon it. We must pattern our behavior after the Christ whose name we bear.

Some final words from my heart…

I have told you where I stand on the issue of abortion and why, but I have asked you to be open to what I am trying to say today. I hope that whatever your personal position may be, you will now be willing to examine it in a new light, and I hope that you will now be willing to join me in a higher commitment. I call us to attack the causes that lead to abortion, so that ultimately people will make the right choices earlier and that will eliminate the need for the tragic choice of abortion. I call us to take our stand for life for all of God’s children, born and unborn. I call us to reach out to those who choose against abortion and let us help them rear their children in those difficult circumstances. I call us to reach out to those who choose abortion and let us treat them as God would treat us—with amazing grace—for remember no matter how you define it, abortion is not an unforgivable sin. Like your sin and mine it is covered by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ shed on Calvary’s cross. And I call us to keep talking to each other, to keep trying to find ways to bridge the gap between Christians pro-choice and Christians pro-life, to keep struggling together to bring hope and healing to broken people in a broken, hurting world in the name of Jesus Christ. I call us to live every single day in, with, and through the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ!

Because we are His, we can do no other…

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