The Shadows over Iraq Darken the New Year

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 December 2004 0 Comments
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I was raised a Catholic and am still a disgruntled participant in the Church. I am a big fan of yours. "A New Christianity for a New World" finally articulated most of the views I have been coming to over the last few years. My only problem is your view on abortion. I work in a community health setting where abortion is just considered another medical procedure. I have always believed that it is an affront to humanity, and that we are making an innocent life pay for our individual stupidity, regardless of whether or not you believe in a deity. I once heard a doctor describe it as justifiable homicide. I am interested to know what your views are on the subject. How is it justifiable?


I am not sure that abortion is justified on some ultimate scale of right and wrong.

I believe sex education is an essential ingredient in modern society. Included in sex education, I mean birth control and family planning. That would greatly reduce the number of abortions, which I would welcome. I find it interesting that those religious voices that are so vehemently opposed to abortion are also opposed to sex education and birth control. I regard their reliance on teaching abstinence or seeking to control sexual desire with heavy burdens of guilt to be naive at best and evil at worst.

I have known poor young girls in urban areas, already living on welfare, totally unaware of what causes pregnancy, who became pregnant by their fathers, their uncles or their mother's current lover. I do not think that a young girl's life should be determined by that act.

Abortion is too serious and traumatic an experience to be employed as an emergency form of birth control. So I think we should do everything possible to make abortion rare. In the world as it is now organized, I believe it must always be a legal option and the ultimate decision must be exercised not by a male-dominated government or a male dominated church, but by the woman, together with her medical and spiritual advisors.

Homicide is, in my opinion, too strong a word to use to describe abortion. Without abortion, as a legal option, our cultural experience is that women die at the hands of illegal practitioners. Those victimized women also come overwhelmingly from among the poor and disadvantaged members of our society. I regard abortion as one more compromise we have to make in a radically compromised world in which life not death, wholeness not brokenness, health to illness, fulfillment not oppression, ought to be the driving goals behind everything we do. I believe the life of the mother must be given equal, I would even say superior, weight to the life of the unborn. To protect both should be our ultimate goal. When that is not possible, we accept the lesser goal of protecting one. I wish it were easier. I do not think it is.

-- John Shelby Spong




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