It certainly has been quite a week. Unless you’ve been without cell coverage or WiFi, you’ve joined the rest of us in a front-row seat on the disparate reactions to the SCOTUS opinion on abortion. It is apparent there are two views on the subject and what is most interesting to me as an ethicist is that both groups claim the moral high ground.
Here’s what I mean. As individuals we all believe we are moral. That is, we all believe that, for the most part, we are ethical, moral beings. Regardless of how we may phrase them, we all instinctively ask ourselves moral questions. Am I an ethical person? Do I make moral choices? Am I an ethical shopper, neighbor, citizen? Are my beliefs those that will result in actions that contribute to the betterment of my family, my neighborhood, my world?
It appears to me that both sides of the abortion debate claim to promote the higher good. Both are shouting that their view is essential to the welfare of our country and its citizenry. Neither claim to be immoral, unethical, or dangerous even though, sadly, some on both sides accuse their opponents of being all that and more.
How can that be? How can competing truth claims both be morally correct? The answer is found in the fact that each side has its own moral vision, its own standard by which morality and ethical behavior are measured.
On one side you have the moral vision that sees abortion as a women’s rights issue, with a woman’s rights over her body trumping the rights of the baby. In fact, they refuse to see the human life in the womb as a baby. Rather, it is a non-viable tissue mass at best, and an unwanted invader in the woman’s body at worst. Their moral high ground is found on the mountaintop of a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. Such sovereignty makes the unwanted human life inside the womb expendable.
On the other side you have the moral vision that sees all human life as equal, without some hierarchy that assigns more worth to adult female life and well-being than to the human life in the womb. For this group, their moral high ground is based on the irrefutable history of mankind, which testifies that the taking of non-criminal human life is immoral.
It is also true that both sides argue for individual responsibility. Those favoring abortion argue that a woman must have sole responsibility for what she does with her body. But those opposing abortion argue individual responsibility as well, only they see it differently. They assert that women should take responsibility for having participated in the kind of sexual activity that results in the creation of human life.
As you might guess, I stand with those whose moral vision is based on human history, and on the clear teaching of the Bible, that all life is created by God and therefore, to be nurtured, honored and preserved. I also believe it is the area of individual responsibility that needs to be considered more carefully.
Recently, I consigned some of my retirement funds to a financial advisor. And with each new investment vehicle he said the same thing. “All investments come with risk. The goal is to minimize that risk.”
The fact is, all of life poses some kind of risk. We enter each situation cognizant of the risks, and understand that, if we don’t want the risk, we don’t get into the car, attend a mass gathering, or neglect proper nutrition, exercise and visits to the doctor.
But imagine a person who loves to gamble going to Vegas with a pile of money. He knows the risk. He knows he might win, but he might lose. Imagine then, after he has lost most of his currency, he suddenly demands that someone else take the loss and that the house restore his money. If you’re his friend you might suggest that he stop gambling if he can’t handle losing. Or maybe he should become better at gambling to minimize the risk. But in any event, his demand not only puts the burden of his loss on someone who is not a party to that loss, but also demonstrates his own selfish, immature behavior.
It is certain the abortion issue will be with us for many years and just as certain that each group will continue to claim the moral high ground. What is needed is a close examination of the presuppositions of each side to see if those bedrock commitments are themselves moral and ethical. I don’t believe they are. It is very dangerous to call evil good, especially when you go further and declare evil as not only good but also essential.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.