Different religions, communities and nations have different theories about when life begins. Likewise, there are differing religious, cultural and moral views about human sexual reproduction resulting in human fertilisation.
The Namibian Constitution in Article 21 guarantees decision-making responsibility. It means the right to make decisions on matters of conscience is a fundamental part of what to means to be human.
Now, let us take the case of abortion. We have two positions: The first position is that of some [but not all] religious groups that believe a foetus is indeed an “unborn child” from the moment of conception. The second group consisting of some religious and social groups who prefer to exclusively give the right of decision to the mother.
This group prefer to talk about “the unborn” and advocates the legal and the moral right of the woman to choose whether to have an abortion. These two positions are identified as the “pro-life” or anti-abortionists and “pro-choice” or pro-abortionists positions.
A typical “pro-life” argues as follows: They argue or assert that the life is present from the moment of conception or that foetuses are babies who possess characteristic such as a genetic code and even a soul that is both necessary and sufficient for being a living human being.
Pro-choice will argue or assert that foetuses are not persons or those foetuses are not rational agents or that foetuses are not social beings or even in the process of becoming human. In short, the foetus is not a person, and so does not have the right of persons until a specific time, that is in most cases after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In the Bible references to abortion are extremely rare. The most important text is Exodus 21: 22-23 and it reads as follows: “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she has a miscarriage but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life.”
The text stipulates that if a miscarriage results when people are fighting, the guilty party shall be fined; if, however, the woman is killed, the assailant shall “take life for life.” Here the argument is that before birth the foetus is an organic part of the mother and is not yet a person prior to its emergence from the womb. In other words, when abortion is permitted, it is generally justified on the grounds of compassion for the mother. In New Testament or elsewhere in the Bible there are no explicit references to abortion.
In African church history, we have two famous African theologians. Tertullian (150-225 CE) is from Tunisia, Africa. On the issue of abortion, he taught that the foetus is fully human and the soul enters the body at conception. Abortion was morally permissible, he believed, only when necessary to save the life of the mother.
Augustine (354-431 CE) is from Algeria, Africa. He held a different view. He considered life starts at animation (quickening). Differently explained, Augustine believed such animation or becoming human happened after 40 to 80 days and consequently, only such a foetus can be said to have a soul. In short, a foetus has no soul or body or mind to be defined as a human being.
Now, I am in a position to suggest my middle position: Today, in addressing the abortion issue, as Christians and as Africans we are confronted with the need to seek ways to alleviate the underlying causes and to provide an alternative to abortion through family planning, adoption, financial assistance and education relating to sexual health and reproductive rights to prevent unwanted pregnancies and baby dumping.
The most basic challenge open to us is to nurture fundamental respect for life, including that of the unborn. This respect-rather than the enactment of either restrictive [pro-life] or permission legislation [pro-choice] -is a prerequisite for the goal of preventing abortion without coercing women.
In summary, our role in society begins long before and extends far beyond legislative regulation or enforcing our religious beliefs upon others.
Today, we are called upon to be “samaritanus bonus” or human beings who defend the value of life and dignity for all living human beings by urging true care and accompaniment in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Compassionate outreach and life-sustaining assistance are crucial in supporting those mothers who bear children, as well as those women who choose not to do so.