Why Both "The Women's Right To Choose" And "The Right To Life" Arguments Get It Wrong

Every major election it seems as if the topic of abortion is heightened.  On the progressive side individuals are insisting that a woman has a ‘right’ to choose.  On the conservative side individuals are insisting on the ‘right’ of life for the unborn.  Surprisingly, both of these arguments have more in common than one might think.  Let me repeat the arguments to see if you can pick up on the similarities.  The reasoning of progressives says that mankind has the basic ‘right’ to choose.  The reasoning of conservatives says that life is an essential ‘right.’  Can you see how both of these positions are founded on the basis of human ‘rights?’  The argument boils down to this, which is a more fundamental right: freedom of choice or life of the unborn? 

Bishop William Willimon on page 100 of his book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry discusses this idea of rights saying, “We live in a culture of ‘rights.’  A human being is defined as a bundle of rights, and the best society is that which gives me the maximum amount of space to exercise my rights.”  Willimon goes on to say that, “In such a society, even life itself becomes a ‘right.’”  Discussing the idea of choice he states,

“Likewise, we live in a society where freedom of choice is a supreme virtue.  After the European Enlightenment, a human being is defined by choices.  A human being without choices is less than a human being.  The best human being has the maximum number of choices and the maximum amount of freedom to choose in this great supermarket of desire we call Western culture…”

As you can see, both arguments over the abortion issue are being founded upon two very powerful understandings of ‘rights.’  However, there is a flaw to both of these arguments and how they fight to position which ‘right’ is superior. In other words, the presuppositions of the ‘right’ to choose reasoning and the ‘right’ to life reasoning are both fundamentally established on the understanding that there is such a thing as ‘rights’ for us as humans.  Willimon comments on this further saying,

“Unfortunately, both of these terms—‘right to life’ and ‘freedom of choice’—are at some odds with the language of the Scriptures.  Where in the Bible do we find a ‘right to life?’ In Scripture, life is not a right.  Life is a gift.  God gives life and God commandeers life and God takes life.  Only the giver of life can be the taker of life.  Our lives are not our own, rather they are accountable to the God who gave us life.”
            Furthermore, it is difficult to find scriptural support for ‘freedom of choice.’  Mary, Paul, Peter, Sarah—what was their ‘freedom of choice?’  The story is concerned more with the free and sovereign choices of God, rather than the autonomous choices of people.  The goal of the gospel story is not to make us free, to be those who live and die on our own terms, but rather to have our lives linked to something and someone worth living and dying for.”

My dear friends, the value of life is not derived from a mere human mandated right nor does our own self-declared autonomy grant us the right to place ourselves at the center of the universe to rule with an unchallenged narcissistic free will.  In other words, the fight for the ‘life’ of the unborn is not over which is the greatest right, life or choice.  No, the fight is over replacing the narrative of ‘rights’ with a new narrative.  In other words, the new narrative shifts the conversation away from the opinions and rights of created mankind to the opinions and rights of the Creator.  The new narrative is one where we confess that we creatures have not done well in the criteria we have used to determine life’s value.  The new narrative is one where we confess that we are not master and commanders of the universe.  The new narrative is one where we recognize that we all too often judge the value of life based on criteria that we think is important.  The new narrative confesses that we creatures have taken the place of the Creator when assigning value to life.  The new narrative turns the whole abortion dialogue upside down saying,  “Every human life is a life created by God.  Every human life is a life for whom Jesus Christ died.  Every human life is a life Jesus desires to take into His arms, bless, and call into an eternal relationship with him.”[1]  

It is about a sovereign God that gives life and values life to the point that He chooses to die for human life.  This is why we are 'for life.'

[1] Rev. Dr. James Lamb, Hands that Knit, Arms that Hold (Sermon)

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Ron Voss said…
Pastor Matt,
A good perspective on the importance of the choice of language in defending the unborn. Life is a gift from the Creator God. However, I wonder if choosing the right language (which I agree we should use) will have a significant impact since peoples' positions on these matters are largely determined by their worldview. For a secular humanist believing in naturalism: Creator?; I am the result on an accident - matter just happening to come together some 3-4 billion years ago. Without a change in peoples' foundational world views, I can only imagine matters getting worse, such as post-birth abortion (already suggested) and eugenics.