No issue in America is more toxic than abortion, and that’s partly because it is today so closely associated with religion. While many feminists see abortion as a matter of choice, some Christians see it as murder.
Then there are people like Dr. Willie Parker. Dr. Parker is black, feminist and driven by his Christian faith to provide abortions in the South, where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy have few options.
“I believe that as an abortion provider, I am doing God’s work,” Parker writes in his new memoir, “Life’s Work.” “I am protecting women’s rights, their human right to decide their futures for themselves, and to live their lives as they see fit.”
Since childhood, Parker had been taught that abortion was wrong, and for the first half of his career as an OB-GYN, he refused to perform abortions. But then he had what he calls his “come to Jesus moment,” an epiphany that his calling was to help women who wanted to end their pregnancies.
Since 2002, he has been providing abortions, mostly on the front lines in Southern states, walking past picketers who scream that he is a baby killer. He puts up with the danger, he says, because it’s morally right to help desperate women.
If that seems incongruous, let’s remember that conservative Christianity’s ferocious opposition to abortion is relatively new in historical terms.
The Bible does not explicitly discuss abortion, and there’s no evidence that Christians traditionally believed that life begins at conception. St. Thomas Aquinas, the father of much of Catholic theology, believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.
One common view was that life begins at quickening, when the mother can feel the baby’s kicks, at about 20 weeks. When America was founded, abortion was legal everywhere until quickening, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that states began enacting laws prohibiting abortions, beginning with Connecticut in 1821.
Even in the modern era, religion has taken a more complex view of abortion than is generally realized. In the 1960s, ministers and rabbis formed the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, advising pregnant women how to obtain abortions. More than 100,000 women sought their services.
In 1968, a symposium held by Christianity Today suggested that “family welfare” concerns were good enough reasons for an abortion. The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions in 1971, 1974 and 1976 calling on church members to work for the legalization of abortion in some situations.
In 1972, a Gallup survey found that Republicans were more likely (68 percent) than Democrats (59 percent) to say abortion should be “a decision between a woman and her physician.” That’s partly because abortion was seen as a Catholic issue but not a Protestant one, and most Catholics were Democrats.
“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” the Rev. W. A. Criswell, one of America’s Southern Baptist leaders, said in agreeing with the Supreme Court’s legalization of some abortions in Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Source: The New York Times | Nicholas Kristof