Saturday, August 25, 2012

A biblical reflection on procreative freedom

Exodus 21 is a harsh text if taken literally and applied uncritically. In that text we see slavery condoned (more than condoned, rules offered for how to carry it out) in verses 2-4.

In that chapter we see the horror of sexual slavery, not merely condoned but legislated! (verses 7-11).

In verses 15 and 17 we see the command for unruly children to be put to death!

Verse 20 even says a slave can be beaten almost to death! Horrifying, but there it is.

So, Exodus 21 is hardly a text that could be accused of having a liberal bias (or even an humanitarian impulse!).

So, since the author of that ancient passage believes children who threaten or swear at their parents should be executed and families ought to be allowed to sell their daughters into sexual slavery and even male members of the community should be allowed to be held as slaves for up to six years, and a slave can beaten almost to death, you'd think that causing a woman to miscarry would result in the offender being drawn and quartered or at very least "water-boarded"...but you would be mistaken.

In verse 22 we read that if two men are fighting and a pregnant woman is in their way and as a result of being caught in the scuffle she suffers a miscarriage but is otherwise unharmed herself, the one who caused the miscarriage must pay a fine. The husband demands an amount and the one who caused the miscarriage must pay it.

HOWEVER, in verses 23-24, if the woman herself is harmed, THEN the retribution is "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb, wound for wound." If the fetus is aborted, there is a fine. If the pregnant woman is harmed beyond having a miscarriage, then whatever harm she suffered, the offender must suffer in equal measure.

Now, I'm not looking to Ex. 21 to form my opinion on matters of choice (or anything else). The writer probably forteited his moral authority at the advocacy of slavery and killing ill-behaved children. But it does show that these issues are more complex than standing on tradition or the rules of an ancient institution, or looking up a sentence or two to serve as "proof-texts" that something ought to be done or avoided.

Even in our sacred literature, even in a time when daughters could be sold into sexual slavery and children could be killed for showing disrespect, to cause a miscarriage was only punished by a fine, but harming the mother was punished "eye for eye."

I am completely pro-choice and that isn't based on an ancient text or a ruling from an ecclesiastical office. But, even if I were to look to sacred literature for guidance on the issue, what I might find would probably surprise the anti-choice activists, at least if what I found was Exodus 21!

I find it disturbing that people will fight to insist that a fertilized egg is a person but then disregard the human dignity of same-gender loving people, the elderly, the poor, the uninsured, those coming to this country to improve their lives, and others. I don't know if a fetus is a person in the same way that you and I are, but I do know that LBGT people are human and deserve equal rights. I know that women are persons. I know the elderly are persons. I know that regardless of when human life begins, our responsibility for caring about it doesn't end in the delivery room!

No one is saying, least of all me, that abortions on demand should be offered at the mall. The decision to have an abortion must be very difficult and often is made after the woman has already experienced some sort of trauma. It is an invasive procedure, and no medical procedure is 100% risk free. It isn't ideal, but it is sometimes needed, and those who need the procedure should have a safe and sterile place in which to receive the procedure. And people facing the difficult choice shouldn't be harrassed by those who will never be faced with such a choice!

I honestly believe that anti-choice rhetoric is more about controling women than protecting the unborn. Those who are most vocal about denying a woman control over her own body are often the same ones who seem to think war (killing) should never be questioned, that capitol punishment (killing) is at least morally neutral if not all out good, and that deadly weapons (instruments of killing) should have very little or no regulation. These same people who are so concerned about the unborn are often the ones who then wish to deny those children once they are born affordable health care, help with adequate nutrition, and assistance in obtaining higher education. While they are undeniably pro-birth, they can't really be considered pro-life. At least they aren't always "pro" life that needs to be sustained beyond an umbilical cord.

When rape is prevented rather than redefined, when health care is a right rather than a privilege, when nutrition, housing, and education are more valuable to us than prisons and war, then my guess is that abortions will be fairly rare. But until that day, some women will need them and desperate women will get them whether they are legal or not. We can make abortions safe for the women who choose them while working to create a society where abortions would be needed less often, or we can continue to try to colonize women's bodies. I hope as a society we choose the former and not the latter.

No comments: