Abortion has been a major political, moral and emotional issue in the United States for decades now. We have seen too often political slogans such as: ‘It’s a child, not a choice;’ ‘Abortion stops a beating heart;’ ‘Against Abortion? Don’t have one;’ and ‘I’m pro choice and I vote.’ Abortion has been legal since the 1973 with the now famous decision in the Roe v. Wade case of the US Supreme Court. The justices by split decision declared that a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy is considered a nonperson and therefore part of the woman’s body. The woman was then given the choice, the right, to keep or remove the fetus.
This decision and the development of abortion clinics has divided the nation into pro-choice and pro-life constituents. These constituents have created catchy but divisive slogans such as the ones above. The purpose of this reflection is to draw from Orthodox Christian ethical principles and comment on abortion in general, the meaning behind abortion slogans, making the right ethical choices, and community support for neighbors. Finally I will propose a slogan that reflects the heart of the Christian message of life and thus is healing rather than divisive.
We are human beings made after the image of God. Does that image of God come to human beings at the moment of conception, implantation, medical viability, or birth? It is the Orthodox Christian belief that a human is made after the image of God at the moment of conception. The Orthodox Church has feast days celebrating the conceptions of Jesus the Son of God (March 25th), the Theotokos (December 9th), and the Forerunner John the Baptist. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of conception. In fact, all people are Temples of the Holy Spirit once they are conceived.
Father Stanley Harakas (For the Health of Body and Soul: An Eastern Orthodox Introduction to Bioethics, 2002) states the following about the question of abortion:
- Because our humanity is a psychosomatic unity and because Orthodox Christians see all of life as a continuous and never ending development of the image and likeness toward theosis and full humanity, the achievement of particular stages of development of the conceptus is not ethically relevant to the question of abortion.
- In his second canon, St. Basil specifically rules out the artificial distinction between the "formed" and "unformed" conceptus (The Rudder, pp. 789-790). Thus, any abortion is seen as an evil. Since the physical and the personal aspects of human existence are understood as essential constitutive elements of our humanity, the conceptus - unfulfilled and incomplete as it may be - may not be destroyed under normal circumstances. Eastern Orthodox ethicists reject as unworthy those counterarguments which appeal to economic and social reasons and so hold fife to be less valuable than money, pride, or convenience. Armed with modem genetic information, they also reject the argument that an abortion may be justified because a woman is entitled to control her own body. That basic affirmation of self-determination is not rejected; what is rejected is the claim that the conceptus is a part of the mother's tissue. It is not her body; it is the body and life of another human being entrusted to her for care and nurture.