By Father Casey
The debate over abortion is commonly, and I would say unhelpfully, framed as two opposing camps, “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” This is an overly simplistic characterization of the issues, because it is possible to engage the topic of abortion and not fall neatly into either category. One can believe in the dignity and sacred value of all people, while also acknowledging that reasonable people can disagree about when a fetus becomes a “person.” One can view abortion as a tragedy to be lamented, while also recognizing that women should be the chief agents of their own bodies.
The teaching of the Episcopal Church on abortion dwells in this tension. In numerous resolutions through the decades, General Convention has repeatedly opposed “abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience,” while also insisting that “equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.” As a result of this tension, for over 50 years General Convention has cautioned governments against passing legislation “which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.”
I appreciate the careful and nuanced way our church has addressed the topic of abortion through the years, because I must admit my own feelings of inadequacy speaking about it. It’s a big reason I’ve refrained from commenting on abortion in the past, even when it has featured at the top of the news cycle. I have never been involved with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, and I have certainly never known this issue in the deeply personal way women do. I have also struggled with the question of when “personhood” begins, which is, I believe, the central framing question of the debate. Meanwhile, I know that anything I say will inevitably be flawed or fraught, and cause hurt feelings in people I love and respect. There is simply so much heartbreak with abortion, on every side, that it makes it extremely difficult to engage in conversations that lead to greater understanding.
It is not reasonable to expect that the people of Transfiguration will all agree on abortion any more than the rest of our society. This is because, in spite of the absolutism of the loudest voices in this longstanding debate, there is no single “correct” Christian attitude toward this ethically complicated issue. Which is why my hope as a pastor is less that we will perfectly agree on what is right, and instead that we will each embed our opinions in prayer, information, and empathy. We need to find a way to have compassion for both pregnant women and unborn children, and recognize that in the messiness of human reproduction, we can be faced with painfully hard decisions that lack easy answers.
I hope, wherever you are in this debate, you can hold fast to that spirit of compassion. I hope we will all commit to praying for women who feel like an abortion is their only good choice, and the people they turn to for help and guidance. I hope we will support the work of pregnancy care centers and adoption agencies. I hope we can remain open to the experiences of others and continue seeking information that will help us be better-informed. I hope we can pray for the grace to see the humanity of people who have reached a thoughtful, yet different, opinion about abortion. I hope we can also pray for a greater reverence for life, and do our part in creating a society in which every person born has the opportunity to flourish.