Anti-Choice Elected Officials Should Not Pretend to Represent God

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Commentary Religion

Anti-Choice Elected Officials Should Not Pretend to Represent God

Amelia Fulbright

When Rep. Matt Schaefer stands on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives and says things like, “We should value what God values, and that’s the life of the unborn,” I wonder how he knows what God values.

The Bible does not condemn abortion. Jesus never mentions it. There may even be a passage (Numbers 5) that prescribes it, according to some interpretations. So when Rep. Matt Schaefer stands on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives and says things like, “We should value what God values, and that’s the life of the unborn,” I wonder how he knows what God values.

Rep. Schaefer made this statement about his proposed amendment to ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks. This would effectively nullify the exception to the 20-week ban in HB 2, the legislation adopted in 2013 that already severely limits access to abortion care. This amendment is just the latest in a series of attacks on abortion rights in Texas, carried out by people who claim to be doing God’s will.

I used to be a Southern Baptist, so I know what it is like to be devoutly “pro-life.” But experience has taught me that abortion is a much more complex issue than it is often portrayed to be. The reasons women choose abortion are as varied and complex as the women themselves, and this is why many mainstream Christian denominations encourage women to make their choice based on their own moral conscience and by having conversations with their families, their doctor, and their personal religious advisers. Not based on what politicians in the state legislature think.

I gave birth to my first child about four months ago. She is a joy and a gift, and we are grateful that she is healthy and whole. But I remember waiting anxiously for the results of genetic testing. I can only image the heartbreak and devastation I would have felt had a test revealed an abnormality. And I cannot tell you whether we would have carried her to term if this had happened, because it would have all depended on what kind of abnormality had surfaced, the prospects for her quality of life, and the ability of my husband and I to care for her properly.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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The God I trust makes room for the complexity of this kind of life-and-death decision making. God certainly values children, but with concern for their whole lives, not simply whether they are born. And from what I can tell about God through the life and teachings of Jesus, God first and foremost values compassion for people in heartbreaking situations. God also values the lives of women, even women who do not conform to the sexual mores of their cultures.

In Psalm 139:13, a text oft-quoted by anti-choice activists, the writer says of God, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and it is not about unborn fetuses or abortion rights! The questions of whether life begins at conception or whether it is wrong to terminate a pregnancy are not even posed here. And with the Bible, as in life, context is everything. What we have in Psalm 139 is poetry about the writer’s subjective experience of the Divine as both imminent and transcendent, near and far. The image of God being present in the womb speaks analogously of God as creator and giver of life, but it says nothing about God’s thoughts on the safe and legal medical procedure we call abortion.

In fact, the end of this passage is a witness to the vastness and incomprehensibility of God. Psalm 139:17 reads, “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” If this text is relevant to our current debates about abortion, it is because it offers a lesson in humility all of us would do well to embrace. The decision whether to have a child or terminate a pregnancy involves weighty, deeply personal questions that can only be answered in the moment and only by those involved. In this case it may be that “only God knows” what is best, and those of us unaffected ought not be so proud as to claim we know what God intends.

I do believe in the sanctity of life, yet I am not so arrogant to think I know what will bring life to every person in every situation. Though it may seem paradoxical to some people, so very often abortion saves lives and prevents needless suffering. If God is truly omnipresent as the writer of Psalms suggests, then I imagine God is present in abortion clinics, empowering women to choose what is right for themselves.

As a Texan, a mother, a Christian, and a clergywoman, I am weary. I am weary of legislators misrepresenting sacred scripture and distorting Christian doctrine for the purpose of pandering to extremists. I am weary of politicians co-opting religious language to advance their professional agendas. I am weary of the misguided religiosity flaunted at our capitol, without any regard for the separation of church and state that is so crucial to a healthy democracy. Most of all, I am weary of the officials who should be representing me pretending to represent God. It is bad theology, and it is bad politics. The Texans I know are better than this. And so are the Christians.