It was with a little fear and trepidation that I began my Moral Theology class this semester. Thinking about ethical issues is one thing; engaging in discussion with classmates and writing papers is something new for me. Sometimes, we have inklings of our views on things, and it isn't until we're expected to articulate them that we realize we don't really know how to do that. That is where I began this class, and slowly, I am learning.
We make ethical decisions regularly. They touch our lives in the home, the workplace, in school, in hospitals, courtrooms, and the public square. They are intensely personal. Should I seek divorce when my husband repeatedly commits adultery? Or counsel my daughter to when her husband abuses her? How do I handle a dying parent's wishes to avoid heroic measures to preserve life? We will all confront such issues. As a Christian, this can be difficult, because what guides ethical decisions for the Christian runs contrary to popular opinion.
The topic for my term paper is abortion. It isn't a particularly pleasant topic to research. Even in my very preliminary research, I've confronted difficult things. As a woman and a mother, I have very strong emotional reactions to abortion, and I want to be able to separate emotion from truth. This means focusing on the major issue confronting the debate. What is life? What is a person? Two people can have vastly different answers to those questions. Further to the first question, we may ask: When does life begin? Even among Christians, there are various positions.
I believe life begins at conception; following conception, there is a person. Developmentally, he is not equal to a person outside the womb, but in essence he is. He does not differ in essence in the womb from his essence outside the womb. Functionally and developmentally, yes, he does differ. Furthermore, I believe that the child was created by God; that he reflects God's image. That imaging of God will develop as he grows.
There are those adamantly opposed to my views. They believe personhood is a matter of functionality. Equality with another human being is not based on essence, but a particular set of functions. If we can determine when that functionality occurs, anything that precedes it is not a person. It is this difference of views which sets up for conflict in discussing matters of life, death, and dying. As responsible members of society and voting citizens, Christians need to have reasoned views on the issue of abortion. It goes right to the heart of what people believe about humanity.
Especially as we sort through the issues of gender and sexuality, abortion, and dying, understanding where our value comes from is crucial. To base our value on function simply opens the door to rendering those with lesser function as lesser human beings. How can there be equality among people if we cannot begin with something as basic as our humanity? Our equality is by virtue of being created in God's image. These are very foundational truths which guide our views on abortion. I have often felt ill-equipped to engage in discussion about it. Being encouraged to always return to the question of "What is a person?" has been very helpful.
If you are looking for reading about the issue of abortion, I recommend Scott Klusendorf's book The Case for Life. It is a good introduction. It is accessible, informative, and it provides examples of how to engage in dialogue with those who disagree. Klusenforf also provides a suggested "must read" list as well as recommended resources throughout the book.