Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pro-Choice or Pro-Life? Wrong Question.

As I write this in Texas, there is a major fight going on in our state legislature between those who are "pro-life" and those who are "pro-choice." This is an odd choice of words to frame the debate. From what I can tell, there is no debate about either life or choice.

Both sides seem to agree that before life begins, the state should not try to control a woman's body. What a woman does with her body should be her choice.

And both sides seem to agree that once life begins, that life has sanctity and deserves the full protection of the state.

You don't believe me? Let me give you two admittedly extreme examples to try to illustrate the agreements between these two sides.

Imagine a law that required a woman to submit to the sexual advances of any man. Such a law would, among many other things, result in a number of babies being born who would not otherwise be born. Yet I don't think even the most adamant fundamentalist would argue in favor of such a law, even though the law could be said to "protect the rights of future potential babies." Everybody would find this law morally repugnant, because it is taking away the woman's right to control her own body. So at least at this extreme, everybody is pro-choice.

At the other extreme, imagine a law saying a three year old child could be killed if doing so protected the life of the mother. I don't think even the most extreme of the progressives would support such a law. The reason is that a three year old child has clearly passed the milestone at which she has become a human being with all the rights of a human being. So at this extreme, everybody is pro-life.

If we look at the debate this way, it seems clear to me that everybody is both pro-choice and pro-life. The only real difference of opinion is when in the development process "life" begins.

Rather that talking about pro-life versus pro-choice, we would  be better off talking about early-lifers versus late-lifers. The so-called pro-life group is really the group that holds that life begins at or even before conception, which is why I call them early-lifers. The so-called pro-choice group is really the group that holds that life begins at birth, which is why I call them late-lifers.

So when does life begin? At or before conception? Or at birth? There is no way to answer this question and reasonable people can disagree. Since this is a moral question, it cannot be answered scientifically.

As a Christian, I am called to look to The Bible as my moral authority. And The Bible is clear on the question of when life begins.  Life, according to The Bible, begins with the first breath. In other words, The Bible takes the late-life position.

For example, "then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. " (Genesis 2:7)

For another example, "Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it." (Isaiah 42:5)

So from the biblical perspective, life begins with the first breath and ends with the last breath. In between those moments, we have a life and we have a soul.

I'm not arguing that the early-life position is wrong. It is just an opinion. As is the late-life position.

I am saying that the early-life position is not supported by The Bible. From God's perspective, life and breath are intimately connected. When God is ready for us to live, God breathes life into us. When God is ready for us to die, God takes that breath away from us.

So a reasonable compromise between the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" movements might be the one suggested by The Bible. That is, once a baby has breathed her first breath, her life is fully protected and supported with all of the resources the state can muster. And before that, the state takes just as seriously the right of every woman to control her own body.

A win/win plan based on The Bible. Who can argue with that? Even in Texas.

The photo of the newborn is by Sharyn Morrow via Flickr, made available through Creative Commons.

This blog is copyright 2013 by Roger Sessions. It may be reprinted and copied as long as it is not altered in any way and that full attribution is given.


  1. Psalm 139:13 is what I keep thinking about when I see your discussion: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb," (NIV). I think that there is being before the expulsion from the uterus into O2. Also, what are considered "life" and the lifespan have become complicated by modern science, such as cloning and studies that show brain activity continues long after breathing. The "when" is really tricky. This is a great article from a father who underwent fertility treatments with his spouse, who has his own definition: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/artattack/2013/07/between_fetus_and_child.php
    Thanks for all the relevant posts.

  2. Bellew: I love that reading from Psalm. To me, it speaks of the timelessness of God's Wisdom. I wouldn't want to use that to define when life begins, because of the first "extreme" example I gave above. But there is no question that whenever we define the beginning of life, there are going to be tough situations just on the other side of the line. Thanks for the link! And thanks for your interest. Pax Christi!