Unsurprisingly, politics has brought abortion back into the public discourse, because in her last debate, the person who will in all likelihood become the next president of the United States publicly defended partial birth abortion.
Of course, “killing unborn children” is hardly the way most Americans would prefer to describe it. It’s more persuasive to focus on the really vexing examples—the stories at the margins that blur the categories and raise more questions than they answer. Exactly in that mold, a heart-wrenching, tragic narrative recently made its way around the internet. The baby’s condition offered zero hope of life. Most likely the baby would die before reaching full term, or at the most would pass away within a few days or weeks of birth. Any life the child did experience would be a horrifying torture with the only comfort that at least it would be short. It’s a very persuasive story for many people. With no chance of life, saving this child from pointless pain could even be called mercy.
But ironically, the week before I met someone with nearly an identical experience. The emotional power of the story was such that she could hardly even narrate the events and her excruciating decision. The medical condition was the same; the prognosis and recommended abortion identical. She candidly admitted that her vulnerability and the doctors’ pressure made her briefly consider following their advice to abort. Why should you, after all, risk a mother’s life when the child will only experience a few short months of agonizing horror before she would certainly die?
Then I met her daughter. Beautiful. Smiling. Chubby cheeks and as energetic as you would expect any baby to be. Yes, she did need a few minor surgeries. But today she is also completely healthy and able to live a full, normal life. Because the doctors were very, very wrong.
This raises a few observations:
- Stories are just stories. Don’t do your ethics by stories.There’s a reason people chose stories to make their case. They’re personal, real, and powerful. They draw you in, making you ask what you would do in the same situation. But stories are only partial truth. Every seductively persuasive story has a counter story. In this case, two women faced a very similar decision. They made two very different decisions. And the result was that one child is alive and the other is not.Arguing by your preferred narrative is the postmodern fulfillment of Solomon’s observation—“the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17). You need a more solid foundation for your ethical decisions than what you heard happened to your neighbor’s brother’s friend’s wife, or even less verifiably, someone on the internet.
- Reality can be confusing. Biblical certainties are not.I would never want to argue that ethics is simple. It’s not. Anyone who has ever studied the field in a philosophical context discovered that quickly.But I would suggest that doctors and politicians are not typically very good ethicists either. As someone who studies and teaches theology, I willingly cede questions of biochemistry, pathology, therapy and so on to experts in the field. But it does seem strange to me that earning a medical degree and putting on a white coat seems to qualify someone as an ethicist. It shouldn’t,
And while ethical questions are not easy to settle, Scripture does come to us with absolutes. Killing people is wrong. There are no special caveats for which side of a uterus they’re on, or the anticipated quality of life and whether that merits their experiencing it. Human beings made in the image of God are sacred. That still doesn’t turn complicated decisions into simple ones. But it gives direction and certainty.
That brings us back to the stories. Both people received the same information—same diagnosis, same advice, same excruciating choice. But the outcomes were fundamentally different because they chose to follow underlying assumptions about science, ethics and reality. In biblical terms we call it faith—the choice to be guided by realities bigger than what we see (Heb. 11:1), or the decision to accept God’s words as true even if reality seems otherwise.
That doesn’t always guarantee a happy, easy outcome. Sometimes good people trust God and carry their children to full term only to lose them. Even here, faith calls us to submit to God’s words as truth, accepting the outcomes as from His hand whether easy or hard.
But if stories are powerful, God has written the most transformative narrative of all—the stories of those who walked hard paths before us stretching far into the past and climaxing with Jesus Himself (Heb 11:1–12:2). Entering into His faithfulness, suffering, and victory for us, we write our own stories daily by how we respond to the confusing realities around us. The walk of faith will force you to make choices that don’t add up. Take Him at His word and trust Him to write your story.