By Jon Jordan
For many, the primary question in the abortion debate is one of legality: When, if ever, should abortion be sanctioned by the state? Abortion enters our collective attention span every time a new law is proposed, passed, or challenged in the courts. Politicians speak of defending or repealing Roe v. Wade along fairly predictable party lines, and seem to care about doing so in proportion to their proximity to the next election cycle. The abortion debate is, on the surface, about laws.
This is a shame, and it highlights a catechetical failure. That most Christians today consider legality the primary question means that we have severely dropped the ball in moral catechesis.
Should abortion be legal? is simply not the most important question in the debate. It does not make my list of the top 15 most important questions about abortion. But Christians are often more equipped to answer the question of legality than they are to even think about asking countless more important questions. Sides are chosen, and slogans are tossed across party lines.
The following list is not exhaustive, but it may serve the purpose of revealing just how far we are from grasping what is at stake in the abortion debate. Perhaps you have thought through most of these questions. You likely have a more robust answer to some of them than I do. But chances are, many of these questions are as new to you as they were to me when I began trying to explore the first principles of the abortion question years ago.
So here they are:
1. What is human life? Is it distinct from non-human animal life?
2. Is human life sacred?
3. Are some human lives more sacred than others?
4. What does it mean for human life to be sacred?
5. Is one human life worthy of protection by other humans?
6. Is one human life worthy of legal protection by the state?
7. Should the state have the right to act against one human life in order to protect another human life?
8. Are some human lives more vulnerable than others?
9. Are more vulnerable human lives more worthy of protection than less vulnerable human lives?
10. Should the state always protect the more vulnerable life at the expense of the less vulnerable life?
11. When does human life begin?
12. Is it always wrong to end human life?
13. Does a human life conceived out of rape have the same right to life as a human life conceived out of the sexual intercourse of those involved in a loving relationship?
14. Within a society, whose voice ought to be loudest in making these decisions — the mother, the father, the child, the state, or the Church?
15. What sort of life circumstances and systemic issues would lead someone to decide that abortion is the best outcome of pregnancy?
Others may be more equipped than I am to begin answering some of these questions, but I am proposing that our energy may best be spent thinking deeply about these questions before sloganeering for one political side or the other. In thinking through these questions, we also need to rediscover ways of teaching our people how to think through these questions.
In Strangers in a Strange Land, Archbishop Charles Chaput bucks the trend of so many Baby Boomers by actually taking ownership of the failures of the next generation.
The reason the Christian faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young people is that—too often—it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it. As Catholic Christians, we may have come to a point today where we feel like foreigners in our own country—“strangers in a strange land,” in the beautiful English of the King James Bible (Ex 2:22). But the deeper problem in America isn’t that we believers are “foreigners.” It’s that our children and grandchildren aren’t.
May his words be heard by all of us who have been caught advocating political solutions when we ought to have been seeking answers to far more pressing questions, and teaching others to do the same.
The Rev. Jon R. Jordan serves as a transitional deacon at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. He is also the Campus Administrator and Logic School Principal at Coram Deo Academy of Dallas, and the author of From Law to Logos: Reading St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.