Termination of pregnancy is a sensitive, emotional and difficult issue with many factors playing a role, with possibly wide-ranging implications with people of faith, especially now that the issue has been brought to Parliament for debate.
This means that it is full of complexities and nuance and emotion, and so this is likely to be a lengthy reflection. I hope that the below enlightens the reader, as my previous articles on this topic also aimed to do. There seems to me to be four primary theological questions/complications for many Christians when it comes to finding their positions on termination:
Firstly, is the unresolved question within Christianity regarding the extent to which our modern-day actions should be governed by Old Testament laws? Certain Old Testament directives are simply ignored in our contemporary society, like the prohibition on tattoos or eating bacon. Some Christians try to resolve this by arguing that there is a moral code; a ritual code and cultural code but we only need to follow this first code. The immediate exegetical dilemma with this view is that no Hebrew person viewed the Law of Moses in this in this compartmentalised way and there is no theological or Biblical rationale for this very forced division.
Furthermore, there is no argument as what exactly constitutes such a “moral code”, because there is no natural or even textual division like this in Scripture. In many places in “the Law”, they are all intertwined, with no way of separating them.
Secondly, there is a lack of scientific and religious clarity over how to define when life begins. A Rabbi once stated for Jews, “life begins when the kids finish university and the last one leaves home!”. Traditionally, life begins with the first breath-based upon the notion in the “mythical” Genesis Creation Story of God breathing into the nostrils to give THE MAN LIFE.
Thirdly, determining whether something that one may believe to be personally morally wrong or even a sin should be legislated against. Some may say, “Termination is murder”, but for legal purposes, not all killing is regarded as murder, one may be charged with crimes like culpable homicide or manslaughter, which in Criminal Law are different degrees of crime. And in wartime, no one regards engaged in battle as “murdering each other”.
Thus, “murder” is a legal term and the phrase “termination is murder” is a moral and not a legal, statement. The State’s legal duty is to do justice rather than be a particular parochial morality. Now, some Christians won’t understand this argument because it is nuanced, but “legal is not always the same as “moral”.
Lastly, perhaps the greatest complication of all is quandary: when an action normally interpreted as a sin, results in an outcome that appears to be more compassionate for all involved. John’s Gospel Chapter 8 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery (for which the legal penalty was death by stoning). There, Jesus acts as if the men’s hypocrisy and righteous anger were as bad as the actions of the woman, and we see that Jesus chooses compassion over the law.
In summary, there are four main religious questions regarding termination of pregnancy that needs to be untangled:
To what extent do Old Testament Laws govern our moral positions?
When does “life” begin?
How far does the State rule an individual’s behaviour?
How do we determine what is the most compassionate action?
We need to recognise that we will have different perspectives on this matter of termination of pregnancy, and that is part of what makes a truly democratic society. Therefore, this initial article intended to give an alternative view regarding the very pertinent issue and allowing the reader a broader outlook on the matter. Further articles will be written where we further explore the issues relating to the “termination of pregnancy”.