This the 2nd in a 5-part series on abortion.
Sanctity of Life Sunday: A Modest Critique
When Life Began to Begin at Conception
The Impossible Middle Ground
A United Methodist Bishop's Pro-Life Witness
Challenging Liberal Christians on Abortion

Without ever being entirely comfortable with it, I've supported the liberal position on abortion for years: Any woman for any reason at almost any stage of pregnancy should be allowed to obtain an abortion and, if she cannot afford it, the state should subsidize the cost. Mostly out of disgust with the most extreme pro-life advocates, I've pretty much held the opposite extreme view: "Forced motherhood is female enslavement." I don't want to enslave females! But my confidence in that absolute position has never been rock-solid.

I thought I was raised conservative. Then I grew up and realized that conservatism was a lot more extreme than I ever imagined. When I was a kid, I understood "pro-life" to mean that you opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life or health of the mother. It did not occur to me that everyone who was pro-life believed that abortion should be criminalized. It just meant that if you found yourself unexpectedly pregnant, you would carry the baby to term and not abort it. I thought it just meant that abortion was immoral and to be avoided except in certain circumstances. Abortion may be a sin, but it should not be a crime.

How naive.

In time, I came to understand that being "pro-life" meant that you wanted the government to criminalize abortion, certain circumstances excepted. In recent years, however, those exceptions seem not to apply in the pro-life movement and even in Republican primary politics. When I was a kid, I thought protesters carrying "Abortion is Murder" signs were extremists. Now many pro-life activists purport to believe that taking a morning-after pill is no different than pointing a loaded gun at a newborn baby's head and pulling the trigger.

Was I just naive, or has "pro-life" become more extreme?

Probably both.

So what changed?

I think the abortion debate changed when life began to begin at conception.

Some have always believed it, but now the mainstream pro-life view is that life begins at conception. If that is true, then it's difficult to justify abortion, difficult to compromise, difficult to prioritize other issues, and, ironically, difficult to actually reduce the number of abortions. Let me explain.

A fertilized human egg.

A fertilized human egg.

When life began to begin at conception, abortion went from being a gut-wrenching ethical choice to an act of first degree murder.

When life began to begin at conception, abortion stopped being merely a complex, controversial issue. It became a genocide ten times worse than the Holocaust.

When life began to begin at conception, it was no longer acceptable to try to lower the abortion rate. The only moral response was to seek its immediate and unconditional criminalization.

When life began to begin at conception, it was no longer possible to challenge the Republican Party on its other social, economic, or foreign policies. The only appropriate action was to defeat the genocidal Democrats and unconditionally support the GOP with votes, dollars, and activism.

When life began to begin at conception, it stopped making sense to reduce the number of abortions. Do you seek to merely lower the genocide rate? No! You fight to end the genocide!

Human embryo at 6 weeks.

Human embryo at 6 weeks.

So, does life begin at conception? On some level, it obviously does. Do fertilization and implantation imply personhood? I think not. I don't know at what point it is morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy. I don't know at what gestational age it should be a crime. It's reassuring, I guess, to know that a large majority of abortions take place before 8 weeks gestation and that more than 90% before 13 weeks. But even at 8 weeks, an embryo is a perfect little possibility -- well on it's way -- even if it's not a person. At one week, it's a perfect little possibility. At the moment of conception, it's a perfect little possibility.

I think those of us who tend toward the pro-choice end of the spectrum need to take stock of the fact that, in this nation, we discard more than one million perfect little possibilities every year. Some people think it's no big deal or that it's a good thing because women have control over their own bodies. Some people's hearts break over every one. The overwhelming majority of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes. That will be the subject of my next post: The impossible middle ground.

This the 2nd in a 5-part series on abortion.
Sanctity of Life Sunday: A Modest Critique
When Life Began to Begin at Conception
The Impossible Middle Ground
A United Methodist Bishop's Pro-Life Witness
Challenging Liberal Christians on Abortion

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