I’ve heard a lot of pro-abortion arguments in my day, but every now and then I run across one that just seems so completely nonsensical, it takes me aback. One such convoluted argument comes from Beverly Wildung Harrison, formerly a professor of Christian ethics at the Union Theological Seminary. Harrison, who died a few years ago, wrote the book Our Right to Choose in which she used Christian theology to justify abortion.
Presidents, members of Congress, and other leaders have made life or death decisions that resulted in thousands of deaths. Some of these decisions – such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – are justified by many Americans, even if many deaths occurred. Other decisions were clearly mistakes. In 1988 a U.S. Navy officer in the Persian Gulf fired a missile into civilian airliner, killing 290 people, including 66 children. Somehow we can tolerate our leaders making life or death decisions affecting many lives when they are faced with difficult situations such as international aggression. We find understanding and empathy for them if they make a mistake – even if their decision brings death to other human beings, yet we don’t want to let a woman make a decision affecting only her own life and the life within her.
Apparently, this is what passes for theological scholarship in some institutions.
This argument is so convoluted and illogical it is hard to know where to begin. On the face of it, Harrison is claiming that because world leaders have made decisions during war that killed civilians, it is alright for a woman to kill her child. Interestingly enough, she freely recognizes that the baby is a “life” within the mother. Apparently, because we give world leaders the right to kill the innocent, women should be allowed to as well.
This overlooks the fact that, generally speaking, we do not give leaders the right to kill the innocent, at least not in the US. If president Obama walked into a shopping mall and started shooting people, he would be arrested just like anyone else. In a wartime situation, it’s true that civilians sometimes do get killed, and this is one reason why many pro-lifers are pacifists. However, even for pro-lifers who are not strictly pacifists, not to mention most of the general public, the killing of civilians in war today is not looked upon as the “right” of the president, but rather as a tragic, unintended consequence of war.
Accidentally shooting a missile into civilian plane is a mistake, not a freely chosen act. If a modern president woke up one day and decided to drop a bomb on, say, Paris, with the intention of killing civilians, there would be international outrage and calls for justice. Comparing accidental civilian deaths during war with the deliberate killing of babies in abortion is comparing apples to oranges.
And even if we do concede that civilians were killed deliberately 70 years ago in Hiroshima, it does not follow that a woman should be allowed to kill her baby today. Violence does not justify violence. Violence is wrong, regardless. Justifying one act of violence with another is not a valid argument.
An analogy would be if someone argued, for example, “my brother ran over a dog six months ago, so I’m going to drown these kittens.” It simply doesn’t work on any kind of a logical level. “So-and-so did, so I should be able to do it too” is something that little kids often say, which prompts their parents to ask “if so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you do that as well?” Harrison seems to have missed this childhood lesson.
I’m not trying to take potshots at a woman who’s not around to defend herself. Harrison may well have made other arguments that were compelling. I have not read her entire body of work. I’m sure that in many ways she was an intelligent woman; after all, she did rise to the pinnacle of her profession. But this particular argument is preposterously bad, and the fact that it was made in the first place and then taken seriously enough to be reprinted in another abortion supporting Christian book years later shows that quite a few people must have thought it was a good argument. This does not say much for pro-abortion scholarship.