Last September, our congregation began a weekly Bible study based on Article 22 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, "Peace, Justice and Nonresistance" (see <http://www.mcusa-archives.org/library/resolutions/1995/1995-22.html>).
The issue of abortion is, of course, an important one because it may involve the taking of life, and as Christians, we believe that taking life is wrong. Specifically, we are commanded in Exodus 20:13: "You shall not murder" (NRSV).
Abortion is also important because it is epidemic in the United States, where there are an estimated 1.2-1.5 million abortions annually. According to the article "Divorce and Abortion" by Edward Babinski, almost a quarter of a million of these abortions are performed on women who claim to be born-again or evangelical Christians.
Finally, abortion is important because it has become a critical issue in the support of political candidates and parties by Christians. According to David Batstone, writing in the November 11, 2004 SojoMail <http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.home>: "… a bevy of pundits in the national media have sought to make sense of the 'moral values' indicator that emerged as a crucial deciding factor in the election. No doubt about it, abortion and gay marriage were wedge issues."
But how do we "witness against" abortion?
First, we need to examine carefully our beliefs related to abortion and the biblical foundation for these beliefs. There are no scriptures in either the Old or New Testaments that deal directly with abortion. Christian beliefs about abortion must, therefore, be inferred from other relevant scriptures.
As a starting point, we affirm that there is a general presumption against the taking of human life and for the value of human life in the Bible as a whole. Beginning with Genesis 1:26-27, we learn that humans are created in the image of God. In Exodus 20:13, God commands us: "You shall not murder." In Psalm 139:13-14, we see that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."
For some, their belief about abortion hinges on determining at what point the fetus is considered to be fully human. Psalm 139:13-16 seems to indicate that full personhood begins at conception. Consider verse 16, which reads: "Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed."
Exodus 21:22-25, which describes the compensation owed if a pregnant woman is accidentally injured while two people are fighting, seems to indicate that the "worth" of the unborn child is less than that of the mother (who has full personhood). If there is a miscarriage (presumably resulting in the death of the child) but no other harm to the woman, financial compensation only is required. However, if the mother suffers further harm or even dies, then commensurate punishment is called for, including "life for life" if necessary. The importance of this passage seems to be that although the unborn child does not have the status of full personhood, it is nevertheless of worth since in the event of its loss (by miscarriage) some compensation is due.
These two scriptures together provide some space for Christians to differ in their understanding of when a fetus becomes fully a person, while still affirming the value of the developing human life. In the case of the first scripture, the fetus has the full status of a human person beginning at conception, while in the case of the second it has the potential, if left undisturbed, of reaching the full status of a human person at birth. Glen Stassen and David Gushee, in their book Kingdom Ethics, sum up by saying: "The fetus is certainly a form of life; it is a form of human life; it is (at least) developing into a human person. The burden of proof is certainly on anyone who would intervene in its life in order to destroy it" (224).
While it is essential to be sure of our beliefs, "taking a stand" on abortion is not enough. To "witness against" the violence of abortion, appropriate action is called for. The Mennonite Church USA Statement on Abortion, at <http://www.mennoniteusa.org/NewItems/delegates/statement_abortion.pdf>, enumerates ways in which we can take appropriate action:
In this vein, a serious effort to reduce abortions in the United States comes from what many might consider an unexpected source, Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). Remembering that as Christians we are to be "in the world but not of the world" and that our primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not to any nation or political party, it is still possible to affirm and support the work of a political party when it acts to reward good or to restrain evil.
DFLA has launched a campaign called the "95-10" initiative. The goal is, through a package of legislative proposals and policies at both the state and federal levels, to reduce the number of abortions in the United States by 95% in 10 years. Among other things, the initiative seeks to promote public awareness, pregnancy prevention, abortion counseling and adoption. According to a DFLA press release (see <http://www.democratsforlife.org/Press/95-10%20release.html>), the initiative is supported by the National Council for Adoption and by Kurt Entsminger, president of Care Net, a national Christian pregnancy services organization.
As Christians to whom has been given the ministry of reconciliation, we can witness against abortion by seeking to create a climate in which abortion is less likely to be chosen and in which loving support and healing are made available to those suffering the trauma of a crisis pregnancy or abortion.