American media are abuzz today with the murder of George Tiller. Tiller was a doctor who carried out abortions in Wichita, Kansas.
Tiller became the target of hostile comment — for example, he was discussed on 29 episodes of Bill O’Reilly’s show — because he was one of the few doctors who performed late-term abortions. O’Reilly routinely referred to him as “Tiller the baby killer”.
The murderer was a member of a particularly strident anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue — a Christian organization.
Andrew Sullivan has been all over this story. I’d like to refer you to one of Sullivan’s posts: an account of one woman who decided not to abort even though she knew that her baby would not survive very long after birth. I would describe it as a courageous decision — but it had sad consequences for her:
My brother and his wife received a diagnosis at the beginning of the second trimester’s ultrasound that their child had anencephaly — a condition where the fetus’ skull does not completely close and the brain forms partially outside the skull. […] They were told the child would die before, or shortly after, birth. There was no doubt about the diagnosis. My brother and his wife were encouraged by their doctor to go to Kansas for an abortion, the closest place where they could obtain one in the second trimester.
It was an agonizing decision, but they chose not to have the abortion for religious reasons. The pregnancy went to term and the baby lived for several weeks. She was surrounded by love for the brief time she was here.
I wish I could say unequivocally that they made the right decision, but the long-term effects on my sister-in-law’s mental well-being have been serious. She is very much changed from the person that she was before.
Andrew Sullivan has the rest of the story. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to steal the entire post. But it illustrates a point that people too often lose sight of as they debate abortion: it affects real, live people in a direct and personal way.
Often, in those real-life scenarios, there are no easy solutions.
I’m inclined to a pro-life position, and I genuinely admire the woman who made this difficult decision. (Let’s hope she made it freely, not as the result of undue social duress from her husband and/or her church.) Christianity calls people to make personal sacrifices: it’s one of the core values of the faith. For example, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” — John 15:13, ESV.
In back of this decision is the idea that human beings should not “play God”. That is, God determines matters of life and death: to take such decisions into our own hands is presumptuous and forbidden to us.
And yet … in this case, the child’s death was a foregone conclusion. (I wouldn’t attribute the birth defect to God, but it certainly wasn’t the result of any choice made by the parents. Call it an “act of God” in the sense that insurance companies use the expression.) It seems to me that the inevitability of this baby’s death changes the moral equation significantly — but pro-life crusaders don’t make allowances for such considerations.
As things have turned out, it seems that the mother has suffered emotional damage as a result of her experience. Of course, it might have turned out differently. And even in this instance, the woman ultimately may overcome her depression and conclude that she made the right choice.
Jesus didn’t say it would be easy to lay down your life for your friend. On the contrary, he called his followers to choose the difficult way — the way of the cross.
Jesus promises, paradoxically, that the way of self-denial will lead to life. However much it may feel like death in the short term.
That’s the promise on which this woman took her stand. Was she duped? Was she tested beyond what she proved able to bear? Is it facile to apply those Gospel texts to her tragic circumstances, or is that exactly the way we’re supposed to make decisions as Christians?
There are no easy answers. Not when it comes to abortion: and not when it comes to matters of faith, lived out in the real world.
p.s. There’s an account of a similar situation here. In that case, a Roman Catholic priest surprisingly supported a couple’s decision to abort.